Anyone who has studied science or psychology knows about experimental effects. It’s like this, when you run experiments to test your environment, the very act of testing influences the results of your experiment.
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It’s like trying to find out if the water is warm or cold by leaping into the pool. All those waves moving out from the point of impact, the temperature of your body when you hit the water, the thrashing motions of your swimming; all these are effects which will influence the outcome of your experiment. You could control for those effects to minimize them, and scientists often do their best in that regard. Often, but not always.
Something I rarely hear discussed is how to control for experimental bias. What about those who build a hypotheses based on strongly held beliefs? Wouldn’t there be a propensity at some level to want to find evidence to support those beliefs?
Well, it turns out there has been some research on “experimenter bias” by David Sackett back in 1979. Sackett found that bias can and does occur in any of the following seven stages of research:
- in reading-up on the field,
- in specifying and selecting the study sample,
- in executing the experimental manoeuvre (or exposure),
- in measuring exposures and outcomes,
- in analyzing the data,
- in interpreting the analysis, and
- in publishing the results.
In other words, bias can come in at any point of an experiment, thus invalidating the results. One of the biggest pitfalls, in my humble opinion, comes with the analysis of data and interpretation of results. There are just so many ways to interpret data and spin results.
So what about this concept of “The Media Effect.” Well, I decided on this phrase after reading an article by David Graham in The Atlantic, called, The Problem With Polls About Whether Obama Is a Muslim. In his article, Graham cites two researchers who make the point that:
The more times a false claim is repeated, the more likely people are to be exposed to it. The fewer people exposed to a false claim, the less likely it is to spread. It is also important not to repeat false claims because people are more likely to judge familiar claims as true. As false claims are repeated, they become more familiar and thus may come to seem more true to people.
So, there it is, the “Media Effect.” When a Democratic polling firm (Public Policy Polling) goes out to ask conservatives if they believe the president is a Muslim, they are actually promoting that very belief. Knowing this, would media and political organizations change their stance on such polls? Probably not, it makes for great news.
But what if it hurts the very president they are trying to support? Maybe someone should go out and poll media organizations to find out.