Objectivity requires practice.
Most of us seem to think we evaluate facts and come to reasonable conclusions. A suggestion from another that we might be biased on a topic is interpreted as an insult. How dare one suspect another of favoring that which confirms beliefs, and downplaying that which contradicts same? But, alas, we all have this failing and it takes a lot of work to keep it in check.
Jim Carrey (in his role of simpleton Lloyd Christmas) illustrates in the extreme how we sometimes only hear what we want to hear:
Jim Carrey illustrates confirmation bias. Lloyd deludes himself into a comforting conclusion.
This is funny partly because it is poking fun at reality — it shows how ridiculous we can be.
Politics & Religion
Politics and religion are fertile ground for confirmation bias. Headlines that favor your candidate are as true (or false) as those that brutally attack candidates of the 'other side'. The flaws in the unfavorable news are 'immediately obvious', but who takes the time to challenge favorable news? How many political aficionados are genuinely skeptical about 'good news' and postpone belief until the claim is reasonably scrutinized?
During the Iowa caucus it was announced that Clinton won 6 coin tosses. The first news was that she had won 6 of 6 (e.g. "Here’s just how unlikely Hillary Clinton’s 6-for-6 coin-toss victories would have been"). Later it was revealed that she had won 6 out of 13 (Sanders, of course, winning the other 7). But when 6 of 6 was the 'news' Sanders supporters cried foul (well before the story was verified). Clinton supporters, in contrast, defended the 6 of 6 — some to the point of arguing that it really was a 50-50 shot because each coin toss was done at a different location by a different person and with a different coin. :) (The probability of having 6 of 6 independent coin tosses all favor a single beneficiary is 1 in 26 or 1.6%).
Many in the religious community are celebrating the opening of Ken Ham's Ark Encounter - a theme park with a full scale 'replica' of Noah's ark as its centerpiece. Millions will visit this large structure and marvel at the enormity of the Bible story reified in such a grand way. Will they even consider the impossibility of bronze age men unlikely skilled in making sea-worthy vessels processing the wood, assembling it (sans nails, bolts) without equipment such as cranes to result in the largest wooden vessel ever claimed (by far) and -on top of that- having it be seaworthy for almost one year of stress afloat with all those animals, food and supplies? Chances are good that most will emerge with an even stronger belief rather than realizing that the Noah's ark story is almost certainly fiction. Are they seeing what they want to see and downplaying 'irreverent thoughts'?
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.
It is our nature to be biased — evidenced by the fact that bias is so difficult to avoid or even to detect. Thus the importance of teaching the younger generations how to think critically. Critical thinking is a skill and this skill requires practice (and indeed the desire to be objective). Instruction such as Common Barriers to Critical Thinking is necessary to help us even identify the many ways we fail to be objective and thus enable us to learn how to discipline our thoughts and make sounder decisions.
An ideal venue for critical thinking is modern science. The scientific method imposes a systemic discipline designed to improve the quality of its results by mitigating the natural biases of the human agents (the scientists). And it works. Science is a highly critical process in which the individual researcher consciously tries to falsify his/her findings – aggressively trying to find the flaw in the research. The motivation is clear, nobody wants the humiliation of fellow scientists exposing flaws. In science one cannot bullshit the evidence or the math (for long) and one does not get a pass for being famous. Indeed the more famous the scientist, the more career benefit to the individual who exposes a flaw. This is true systemic motivation for critical thinking.
There is (one would think) obvious value in being disciplined in one's thought process just like a scientist. Before drawing a conclusion it makes good sense to ensure the conclusion is based upon solid evidence (not just a wish or an emotion) and that the analysis is not polluted by personal bias or cultural conditioning. Borrowing from the scientific method we should all be our own devil's advocate. We should be able to state, with evidence, why we hold a particular viewpoint (or belief).
• Why do you hold the position that the human release of Carbon into the atmosphere is not contributing to a climate problem?
• Why is abortion (at whatever stage you wish to investigate) wrong (or right)?
• Why is homosexuality not natural (a biochemical consequence) but rather a conscious choice?
If one is using critical thinking skills then answers to questions like these would not have anything to do with emotion or be a parroting of another human being's words. They would not be based upon the credibility of a famous person or because of words in the Bible or Qur'an. Critical thinking employs disciplined logic and semantics based upon well-scrutinized evidence (data).
If we are interested in drawing the highest quality conclusions, it is in our best interest to develop the discipline to suppress emotions and desires (and indeed beliefs) and literally follow the evidence to wherever it leads (good or bad).
An inconvenient truth is, in my opinion, superior to a reassuring lie.