Not just for fiction

We read our nonfiction and then (some of us, occasionally) pick up an "alternative history". The interesting thing about these alternative histories to me is that they rarely reverse the bias built into the underlying nonfiction, but rather explore an alternative storytelling viewpoint from the same set of biases.

The Overcoming Bias blog says "The lack of interest in bias-reversed stories suggests we aren't that interested in overcoming fiction biases."

Nor non-fiction biases.

But our bloggers do seriously err, the way many technologists do, when they say,
We do try somewhat to not let fiction overly influence our beliefs about the real world. But surely we fail in many ways; the task is just too hard. How can we do better?

One approach is to prefer apparently true stories, such as biographies, news articles, reality TV, or grampa's war stories. Of course lots of fiction slips in, but at least these can be fact-checked.
No, they can't be fact-checked where 90% of them are interpretive conclusions and the underlying microdata has been selected to favor a vested interpretation.

Nor does it do any good to fact check them when Pulitzer winners want to argue contrary interpretations. The appeal to authority is crippling in our field and has been for 50 years.

A friend of this blog recently received a letter from a history Pulitzer winner asking him to discount a piece of archival evidence in analyzing events because it may have been tampered with by unknown parties at an unknown time in the past for unknown reasons (although it showed no evidence of tampering). The winner, needless to say, is a great storyteller.

Anyone arguing on a debate team has to practice internalizing bias reversal. Let the ACW historian try it.