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Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Bias  

Unavoidable Subjectivity?

Aysel Küçüksu and Stephanie Anne Shelton

This chapter looks at bias, a term which refers to an uninvited, but inevitable aspect of conducting research. It is usually equated with subjectivity, the distortion and manipulation of data, or a lack of objectivity, which undermines the credibility of the research. Bias comes in many forms and the chapter discusses the two that are the most common in the literature: gender bias and confirmation bias. The long-standing positivist interpretation of bias considers that it is an inherently problematic ‘ethical issue’. Yet, contemporary research has called for a ‘reconceptualization’ of this perception of bias in order to encourage a more nuanced view. In the social sciences, bias is a manifestation of how cultural and political standing affects our approach to science. Bias should be acknowledged early on to ensure that both researchers and readers have the critical tools necessary to recognize it and evaluate its influences. This approach originated in anthropology and is known as ‘positionality’.