Accepting Ambiguity

Simple answers are the easy and broad path

Many of the politicians that I’m not voting for have one thing in common, they distrust science. They may be respected physicians, but they’ll balk at the fundamental theories that have enabled science to provide us with genetic testing, and one day, will cure cancer. Or, they may be savvy business pros, but they’ll ignore the environmental red-ink of climate change, or the science that says that this debt cannot be deferred. This primary season has be marked by a constant stream of bogus statistics, created by candidates to support their pet policies. Scientists have a term for this, they call it Confirmation Bias.


Confirmation Bias (or My-side Bias) is the tendency to only accept data or experiences that confirm ones preexisting position. If you don’t believe in evolution, you only post to your Facebook pictures of dinosaurs that have human footprints beside them (photoshop comes in handy here). Scientists recognize the problem and have developed tools, such as the double blind experiment, to ameliorate it. Because the fundamental principle of all science is that all of the relevant data must be considered and recognized in the results, scientists and social researchers always speak with some ambiguity. A scientists will say that a result has plus or minus this much uncertainty. Statistics will be presented as being within a certain range. The better reports and surveys provide their sample size and details on how the research was done. This care to avoid Confirmation Bias goes right over the heads of most people, and makes some simple-minded souls, distrust science.


Many politicians, as well as, many church leaders, are ill equipped to function in the new millennium because they are unwilling to note their own Confirmation Bias. Nor are they willing to accept the ambiguity that all professionals must live with. I don’t want to go to a doctor that only believes the test results that support his favorite diagnosis. I don’t want to listen to a preacher that ignores the ambiguity inherent in every interpretation of sacred text. I don’t want to participate in a building project, or a stewardship drive, where the team leaders have blinders on regarding the congregation’s financial reality.


Those of us who lead in the church, or in critical positions of responsibility, should consider ambiguity to be our friend. We should go to the mat for those experts who recognize the human frailty of Confirmation Bias. It will make us better leaders, even if it doesn’t make us popular.

additional author: 
Wiley Miller - Non Sequitur