Sunday, July 01, 2018

On confirmation bias, the Shapira affair, and "first-century Mark"

THE TEXTUAL CULTURES, MATERIAL CULTURES BLOG: First Century Mark and Nineteenth Century Moses. Michael Press has an interesting post about the Shapira-scroll affair and the recent upheaval over the so-called (but not) "first-century Mark" manuscript.

The technical term for the phenomenon he invokes to link them is "confirmation bias." None of us has enough information to get a clear view of baseline reality. Instead we see a great many dots. We try to connect them into a pattern. But almost always we start with an opinion already. That opinion filters which dots we choose. It influences which lines we draw to connect the dots we've chosen. Two people with different presuppositions often look at the same dotscape and see completely different pictures. And each person is sure that their picture is perfectly clear and obvious.

We all do this. We can see it when other people do it. It's almost impossible to see ourselves doing it. We have tools to help us overcome it, such as the scientific method and peer review. But they are blunt instruments for very specific types of problems. And their results are rough-hewn at best.

I'll let you read Dr. Press's post and see what you think of his comparison.

Background on the Shapira affair is here and links. Michael Press has written about it before. Background on the formerly "first-century Mark" manuscript from Oxyrhynchus is here (with reference to another article by Dr. Press) and links.

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