Confirmation bias, simply stated, is the tendency to accept evidence aligned with ones’ pre-existing beliefs, and to downplay evidence opposed to them. It is an error in judgment that we are all prone to make. Society has devised ways to try to overcome this human frailty through judicial system and the scientific method.
In the case of conspiracy theorists, and in particular the birthers, we see extreme forms of confirmation bias where any crank off the street becomes a forensic document expert, whereas all courts are corrupt.
While confirmation bias leads birthers to the wrong conclusion about Barack Obama’s eligibility as President of the United States, one can rationalize that these fringe beliefs have little real-world consequence because most of those folks wouldn’t vote for Obama anyway.
What troubles me is that confirmation bias not only leads to the wrong conclusion about Obama’s eligibility, it also confounds the moral choices birthers make. We see a handful of aging military special ops veterans breaking longstanding military ethical constraints on political activism; we see people like Jerry Collette blaming the victim, that Obama is to blame for the lawsuits brought against him; and we see birther plaintiffs like Todd House lying in court filings – none of these seeming to have a clue about the ethical implications of their actions. Just as confirmation bias hides contradictory evidence, so does it mask the ethical implications of dishonesty, slander, dishonor, disrespect and frivolous lawsuits.