As technology and education become more broadly accessible, people are being exposed to more information than ever before. It’s easier than ever to choose convenience over reliability or accuracy—to search for symptoms on WebMD instead of asking a doctor, or consult Wikipedia for definitive answers to every question. All this newly accessible yet unreliable information has produced a wave of ill-informed and angry citizens.
“Confirmation bias” is the most common—and easily the most irritating—obstacle to productive conversation, and not just between experts and laypeople. The term refers to the tendency to look for information that only confirms what we believe, to accept facts that only strengthen our preferred explanations, and to dismiss data that challenge what we already accept as truth.