A Note on Bias

Considering the polarising topic of software patents and related IP litigation is coming up a lot lately, I felt the need to write a few words on this thing called ‘bias’. This word is being thrown around a lot, but I get the feeling many people are unclear as to what, exactly, it means. Because contrary to popular opinion, there’s nothing wrong with being being biased. In fact, there’s no such thing as unbiased blogging (or even unbiased journalism).

Let’s talk about this loaded word ‘biased’. The following may rock your world, but there is no such thing as impartiality – especially not when it comes to bloggers or even journalists. Everybody is biased. Impartiality in journalism and blogging is a unicorn. We all want to believe unicorns exist, but that doesn’t make them any more real.

I am biased. I am biased against software patents and anybody who abuses them. More generally speaking, I am biased against overreaching intellectual property rights, and those who abuse them – whether that’s Microsoft, Google, Apple, or Lodsys. I strongly believe the current IP climate is detrimental to the technology world1, and is hindering competition, blocking innovation, and causing severe and irreparable damage to small software developers and startups. Even more generally speaking, I am biased against large corporations using shady tactics – legal or no – to squash competition, instead of building better products to squash competition.

As especially our long-time readers know, I am biased in favour of BeOS. I think that relatively speaking, the BeOS is the best operating system ever made – despite its many shortcomings. I am also biased in favour of Microsoft’s Metro (even though I’m not convinced it’s suited for desktop/laptops). It’s also pretty clear I have a bias against KDE4, because despite my best efforts – different hardware configurations, distributions, drivers, versions, and so on – I never got it to work without sluggish Kwin performance and continuous crashing.

Stepping outside of the technology world, I think Gilmore Girls is the best TV show ever made, and will vigorously defend that claim, despite me not being a girl. Fiona Apple equals perfection in my eyes – so much so that criticism of Fiona will actually hurt me (even though I can certainly understand it if you don’t like her art).

My biases related to technology probably don’t come as a surprise to any of you, and as such, when you guys read the stuff I post here, you take them into account and filter my words accordingly. If you are not as staunchly opposed to software patents as I am, you will most likely be able to disregard my bias to form your own opinion. The fact that OSNews does, in fact, have lots of people who regularly disagree with me is exactly why I enjoy reading our comments so much – you guys expose me (and more importantly, each other) to other ideas, other perspectives. Sure, we may not agree all the time, but that’s the point of having a discussion in the first place.

And yes, it gets heated every now and then. We’re not made of glass; we can handle it. We’re big boys and girls.

Everybody is biased. When you read WinSuperSite, you know Paul Thurrot’s going to be slanted towards everything Microsoft. When you peruse through Daring Fireball, it’s pretty obvious John Gruber is slanted – only ever so slightly – towards everything Apple. When you go to, I don’t know, Groklaw… You know what to expect. Heck, even Florian Mueller recently disclosed he is working and has worked together with Microsoft on several projects.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that; even more so when the people accused of being biased never even claimed to be impartial to begin with. Thurrot’s website’s name says it all. Gruber has always been honest and open about his love for Apple. Groklaw’s mission statement is clear about where its focus lies. I’ve never been particularly secretive about my biases, either. Mueller is a different story, since he always maintained he was impartial – his work for Microsoft suggests otherwise though, but at least it’s in the open now, so we can take it into account.

Even prestigious publications are biased. When you read a large and renowned newspaper like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, you may think you’re looking at impartial reporting. In reality though, even those publications are biased due to the news selection process, what’s in, what’s out – and, of course, what sells, and what doesn’t; what attracts advertisers, what doesn’t. And so on.

The reasons for this are simple: money and human nature, with the ratio between those two ingredients varying per publication. I can obviously only speak for OSNews, but since we don’t have a whole lot of ads and don’t earn massive boatloads of money, the human nature aspect plays the biggest role. For better or worse, I write virtually all of OSNews’ content, and as such, it’s only natural that my views define the front page. I personally would much rather have more editors to provide different views, but despite many, many years of searching, we have been unable to find reliable editors willing to put up with this kind of work.

So, let me reiterate: I’m biased. You’re biased. Everyone’s biased. At least we have a comment section so everyone can post his or her views – and by golly are you people making use of that possibility. Whether on the front page or in the side bar, our comment threads tend to grow quickly, and despite what some sometimes claim in the heat of discussion, there’s a lot of diversity of opinions on OSNews – both in support of the articles posted as well as against. I’m actually quite proud of you guys when it comes to that.

So, that was a quick note on bias.

1 …and don’t even get me started on the utterly destructive effect copyright is having on science.


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