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Where do we get unbiased information from?

I'm starting this in response to some comments in a thread about Anti-MS universities. Several posters clearly thought that professors expressing opinions about products was out of line, and shouldn't happen. Which led me to ask the question: who is qualified to give opinions on products? And related to it, who do we expect to go to for unbiased information about products, and any sphere, not just IT.

Let me say a few things up front. By 'unbiased' I don't mean 'doesn't have an opinion'. I also don't mean that someone is not allowed their own preferences. If they happen to hate particular styles of interfaces, and give bad press to everything with that style, then fine, as long as they are up front about it. By unbiased I simply mean that what they say about a product was not influenced by how much money they might get as a result.

So where might we get this information from?

Trade Magazines? Too reliant on advertising.
Government? Theoretically a nice idea, but just imagine the amount of lobbying that gets done to appoint members of the 'Office of Product Review'.
Media? In depth reviews aren't sexy enough, and what's MSNBC going to say about the new edition of Windows?
Universities? Once this was probably our best source of unbiased information. With course sponsorship on the increase, this is getting to be less likely.
Word of mouth? Again theoretically a good bet. But most of us don't know people using all the products we might consider, and finding people by networking is very time consuming.

Any other ideas anyone?

David Clayworth
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Joel on Software.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I don't think you can. 

However,  if you can form an idea of what bias is in place you can filter resonably effectively - and I always give more creadance to information that goes against the expected bias.

It's called reading between the lines .

Bill Mische
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Human nature almost rules out the idea of unbiased information.

To make educated decisions, I try to rely on 2 things:  1) taking both sides of the debate with salt and 2) my own experience.

If I don't know about either, I try to not comment on something I know nothing about.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Here in the UK I find to be very good.

Of course, you can't get unbiased opinions, which is why you need to get a wide range of opinions, so the bias can be balanced out.

I think were in a better position than ever to get the necessary sample of opinions, thanks to the internet.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

There is no such thing as unbiased information.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Nonsense.  Unbiased information does exist - see "fact".  Unbiased presentation, however....

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Exactly. When people present an idea, it always will have some sort of bias in it.

John Rosenberg
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I think what is needed to advance this discussion are some example statements that clearly identify unbiased information or so called "facts"

Heston Holtmann
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

1) Microsoft is a convicted monopolist

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

2) Having a monopoly is not prohibited.
3) Taking advantage of a monopoly is prohibited.

Johnny Bravo
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Hmm, interesting replies.

Actually I wasn't hoping for unbiased opinion in any absolute sense, since I realise that's practically impossible. I'd settle for opinions that are unbiased in the sense that nobody is paying to influence their opionion, and the opinion holder is doing his/her best to be objective.

For example I would consider a movie reviewer working for an independent newspaper reasonably objective. They might have their own biases, such as hating Robert Altman movies or something, but they are in a whole different category from a show on a Disney owned TV channel reviewing the latest Disney movie.

I think I mostly agree with whoever suggested JoS as a good source. It 's hard to imagine MS devoting much marketing time to posting nice things about their own software on (sorry) a relatively unknown website. Now if JoS were to become a truly massive worldwide phenomenon would that still be true?

David Clayworth
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Now if JoS were to become a truly massive worldwide phenomenon would that still be true?
Of course not, because then they would buy it. :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Who's "they"? Do you mean "them"?

Johnny Bravo
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

A broad spectrum of feedback would be great, but the medium in which you ask will automatically skew the results.

You won't be able to "Ask Slashdot" about Microsoft v. Linux and expect to get a true random sampling of opinions.

"Ask JOS forum" might be better for the subject you're asking about.

I started to answer this question about audio products, and we're slowly building up a user base & reviews. Hopefully we'll eventually get a broad enough spectrum of responses that you can look through the reviews and get a consensus opinion, tossing the ones that you think miss the mark. A sort of style system.

Trade magazines used to be less biased, but advertising dollars started skewing them more and more toward bias. I know of a few that actually were run on subscription dollars and not advertising, but they've all folded.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I also find it interesting that this same question is popping up in different forums - this has been discussed in bass player forums, audio forums, and now this technology forum. People seem to be asking the same question everywhere - how do we get information from sources that aren't skewed by interests other than the pursuit of truth.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

"Unbiased information" means "information biased congruent to my own biases."

Mister Fancypants
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The fact that computer science academics haven't been bought has probably got a lot to do with the fact that research is cheap or free.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Google, amazon, etc.  Anyplace that tries to present a lot of information.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

> Google, amazon, etc.  Anyplace that tries to present a lot of information.

Good point, isn't the Internet supposed to be the great democratizer?
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

To answer what I *think* you were asking...

I don't expect unbiased opinions from college professors. What I *expect* is material related to the course without editorializing. Someone mentioned that one professor handed out the text of the US v. Microsoft decision - if the course wasn't either an Antitrust law course or a business course, then IMHO that professor should be disciplined. Classes are not "ooh, a captive audience for me to spew my anti-[MS|Linux] venom at"; they are a chance to share knowledge.

In a database course, the technical merits of SQL Server vs. Oracle vs. PostgreSQL vs. MySQL vs. [etc] is perfectly valid. "We're using Oracle because Microsoft are a bunch of manipulative convicted monopolists" is not valid, and not what I am paying money to hear.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003

"... because Microsoft are a bunch of manipulative convicted monopolists ..."

... welcome to slashdot university. lol.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

for all IT related infos:

Clear and vitriolic. I love it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

And about as biased as you can get... thereby proving my earlier point.

Mister Fancypants
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I don't have as much of a problem with biased if they're upfront about the agenda they're pushing. "I hate Microsoft, and here's my thoughts on MS Word." Great. Don't disguise "my thoughts on MS Word" as something else though.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

What is wrong with bias?

I personally would like an opinion from a rational intelligent person with bias, rather than an unbiased person who is less intelligent. From what I can see, pretending to be unbiased means pretending wrong things are right.

Oh, and I don't believe it is possible for anyone to be 100% rational, but some are more rational than others.

Neil Bloh
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

There's nothing inherently wrong with being biased.  We're all biased.  Every human endeavor (even science) is bound by human nature, under which biases are unavoidable.  As long as people recognize this, everything is fine.

It is also good to recognize that "thou doth protest too much" is in full effect when it comes to biases.  The more someone or something claims to be unbiased, the more biased it usually is (see: Fox News).

Mister Fancypants
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Two points.

One of the things I expect from my college professors is some advice on what I _should_ be thinking about. Maybe I came to university with a shopping list of information I wanted to learn, but I should also be using this experience to expand the range of things I think about. It may be the last chance I get. There is an argument to be made that Microsoft's OS monopoly is something that all computer professionals should be interested in (possible all computer users). Whether you agree with it or not, you should at least be thinking about it.

Back to unbiased information. I think one of the reasons this is cropping up is that people are coming to realise that lots of information is not the same as good information. 'Just because something is written doesn't mean it's true' is true a thousand times more for the internet than it is for books. There was an interesting article in the Toronto Globe and Mail (about the value of school librarians in raising children's test scores):

In the age of the Internet, Ms. Hersak notes, "children don't have difficulty finding information. Their problem is finding relevant information. The material children access is often spurious, and they don't know where it's coming from. Without a teacher-librarian there to teach them how to look at this information critically, they're going to accept it all at face value."

My view, incidentally, is that we need organisations of some kind devoted to being unbiased, and paid to be unbiased. And I don't mean utterly without a viewpoint, simply that nobody is paying them to put forward a particular point of view. In many ways, universities used to do this, but that is getting harder to do.

David Clayworth
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I wonder if that's possible... Paid to be unbiased. Who's paying them to be unbiased?
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

"... who is qualified to give opinions on products? And related to it, who do we expect to go to for unbiased information about products [or *information* - author], and any sphere, not just IT. ..."

1. Mindset - I do not believe ....
Come at information with a different mindset.  Do not trust information until you can evaluate it's validity, quality and source.

Most people do this by reading a *trusted source*, say NYT ( ) [*1 ] But you even have to evaluate the *author*. Take for instance the retractions the New York Times recently ran on a rouge reporter, Jayson Blair.

2. Read wide.
Do not rely on one source of information.  Only by *reading wide* can you begin to see differences in reporting fact, various spins and outright mis-information.  Its also possible to see interesting patterns emerge, like *visits by national leaders on month*, then a week later trade agreements.  Product reviews for cars one week, product recalls for faults.  *DrugCo* wonder drug now on market, then a urgent recall because of side effects.

3. Remember
Many debious bits of information have a habit of trying to re-perpetuate misinformation as fact.  So be aware of this one.  It is not always possible to keep a file on what you read but be aware.

4. evaluate angle of information
Sometimes information is *spin on facts* rather than facts themselves.  "... Conflicts of interest, bank backflips, deceit, misrepresentation, manipulation, plagiarism, abuse of power, technical lies and straight out fraud ... [ *2 ]"

5. check the facts
Not always possible but look for attributions. Dont believe that your *favourite reviewer* is totally unbiased for *foo product*.

With information coming from fewer sources  critical analysis  is becoming more important.  We are lucky in .au to have critical media analysis  tv [*3], websites dedicated to critical analysis of information.




peter renshaw
Sunday, July 06, 2003

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