Home > Uncategorized > Do Our Biases Get in the Way?

Do Our Biases Get in the Way?

There was a statement made this past Monday (9/12), in the 9:35 section, that people “color their world with their own opinions and ideas.” This is an observation I have also came to notice but never thought about vocalizing until two weeks ago. As I was looking through the blog about “Recognizing Patient form Person” and its comments, I noticed that the ideas and ethical standards from the two time periods (Henrietta’s time and the present) seemed to flow together. One of the comments said, “…I do agree that the volunteers and nurses should have had a closer connection to Henrietta the person, instead of Henrietta’s cells.” Another comment said, “…Skloot speaks only briefly to the behavior and intentions of hospital employees…”It seems to me that people not only color the world they live in with their ideals and opinions, but that we, in general, look at history through those same lenses.

I am guilty of this, especially when it comes to my favorite period of history, the Cold War. But here’s the kicker, if we look at history through the lens of our modern ideals and ethics, or even through the lenses of our own personal opinions, don’t we color history? I Googled “quotes on history” and after some digging around I found these two quotes:

“The first law of history is to dread uttering a falsehood; the next is not to fear stating the truth; lastly, the historian’s writings should be open to no suspicion of partiality or animosity.” Leo XIII

“One of the difficulties with written history is that it describes events far more systematically than they were originally experienced. Often, it is only after the tide of history has swept out a governmentor changed old ways of thinking that we see any patterns in the events by which change was accomplished, and then we are apt to write as if that pattern has been evident from the beginning.” Kai Erikson

These two quotes bring up the points that: one, there is always, or should always, be a fear of recounting history inaccurately, and two, that everything is always simpler in hindsight. I guess what I am trying to say is that, when we read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, we should be mindful that the historical events occurred under socio-cultural conditions different than out own and that, because of these differences, we are bound to see things as being ethically wrong by our standards. But with the time difference, we will not and cannot always know what someone’s intentions were.

Please comment on this and let me know what you think about interpreting history. Do you think that personal feelings get in the way of accurately looking at historical events?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 21, 2011 at 1:01 am

    I agree with this idea that history is always colored by opinions. When we, as students, learn history we are seeing it from the view of not only ourselves, but our professors and the writers of our history books. When reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” we were able to see the imperfections of that past society because we have learned about ethical codes and issues. And of course no one wants to be that person that says that “well it was the time period, that is why it was acceptable for scientists and doctors to do all those experiments.” I know for me, that that idea crossed my mind but I didn’t say it because I have learned that what they did was wrong. It is almost incomprehensible for me to imagine a time when cancer cells were injected into healthy people and that was just a standard practice. I definitely think the topic you have brought up needs to be considered when reading books like Skloot’s because it will effect how the reader how views the content.

  2. September 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    I think the two quotes that you found were very true, at least in my experiences with history. Our feelings and opinions that are formed today always color the way in which we learn and think about past events. I agree with the commenter above that in cases like “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, the wrong-doing often is evident in hindsight because of the understanding that we have now of ethics and morals in regards to science. Similar to the commenter above, I believe it is difficult to speak up and say that it was “acceptable for scientists and doctors to do all those experiments” at that time. Because we look at history knowing much more now than we did at the time, everything can appear to be much simpler.

  3. September 23, 2011 at 2:20 am

    The quote above by Kai Erikson captures the essence, in my opinion, of history and how it is viewed. It is very easy for us to look back in hindsight and point out all of the flaws with a particular situation. As they say, retrospect vision is always 20/20. The part that gets a little bit hazy and ambiguous is when historians, scholars, and just regular people look back on history and don’t only just recount the facts in a logical, organized, chronological order, but they do it in such a way that leaves lots of room for interpretation. Historical events happen. They cannot be changed. They are what they are. There are multiple examples of how people have attempted to change the course of history through their skewed analyses. For instance, there are those people (albeit a small group, but they exist, nonetheless,) who claim that the Holocaust never happened. This is a perfect example of “coloring the world with your own ideas.” The idea of the American Revolution has become such a “colorful” topic, that it is routinely embellished in both American and British schools, to the point where oftentimes, students on opposite ends of the pond will learn completely different stories. About the same event. This doesn’t really make sense…

    I think that looking at life through your own glasses, not anyone else’s is extremely important. As my expatiations elsewhere on this blog suggest, I am a big proponent for free thinking, personal interpretation, and multiple different approaches to the same situation. But reinterpreting and reinventing history is simply where I have to draw the line.

  4. October 2, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    I agree with this the statements posed in this post as well as the comments. In my history class we often discuss how many ideas about the world are products of their time and how the great thinkers of any time are limited by the way their societies view the world. I think it is impossible to completely remove ones self from all kinds of bias. Especially with history, not only the beliefs of the time but also the way history is written. In science, bias is bad because a scientific experiment should be natural and pure. Bias ruins the purity of an experiment. I think in some ways history and research science are vey similar. History tries to piece together a puzzle of the past and research tries to figure out missing variables as well; they are looking for different variables though.

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