Systemic bias

Systemic bias

Systemic bias is the inherent tendency of a process to favour particular outcomes. The term is a neologism that generally refers to human systems; the analogous problem in non-human systems (such as measurement instruments or mathematical models used to estimate physical quantities) is often called systematic bias, and leads to systematic error in measurements or estimates.

Bias in human institutions

One might refer, for example, to the systemic, systematic, or institutional bias of a particular institution in devaluing contributions by women, men or ethnic minorities. For example, a poetry competition that was consistently won by white women could be subject to suspicion of a bias if there were no inherent reason that white women would consistently be the best poets. Such a bias could be deliberate on the part of the judges or entirely unconscious.

For example, the poetry contest might be judged by a pool drawn from its own previous winners, reasoning that prize-winning poets are the best to judge a poetry contest. However, it might be that in addition to choosing for poetic skill, they are also inclined to choose people with whom they have values in common, either about poetry or about other matters, resulting in a continuous stream of prizewinning white female poets. In this case, the bias could arise from either conscious or unconscious defense of gender and racial interests or simply from their shared point of view; in either case, it results in a biased representation of the reality they are describing in terms of quality of poets and poetry.

Because cognitive bias is inherent in the experiences, loyalties, and relationships of people in their daily lives, it cannot be eliminated by education or training, but awareness of biases can be enhanced, allowing for the adoption of compensating correction mechanisms. For example, the theory behind affirmative action in the United States is precisely to counter biases in matters of gender, race, and ethnicity, by opening up institutional participation to people with a wider range of backgrounds, and hence presumably a wider range of points of view. In India the system of scheduled castes and tribes was intended to address systemic bias within the caste system. Similar to affirmative action, it mandates the hiring of persons within certain designated groups. However, in both instances (as well as numerous others), many people claimFact|date=February 2007 that a reverse systemic bias now exists.


"Financial Week" reported May 5, 2008 (emphasis added):

"But we travel in a world with a systemic bias to optimism that typically chooses to avoid the topic of the impending bursting of investment bubbles. Collectively, this is done for career or business reasons. As discussed many times in the investment business, pessimism or realism in the face of probable trouble is just plain bad for business and bad for careers. What I am only slowly realizing, though, is how similar the career risk appears to be for the Fed. It doesn’t want to move against bubbles because Congress and business do not like it and show their dislike in unmistakable terms. Even Fed chairmen get bullied and have their faces slapped if they stick to their guns, which will, not surprisingly, be rare since everyone values his career or does not want to be replaced à la Mr. Volcker. So, be as optimistic as possible, be nice to everyone, bail everyone out and hope for the best. If all goes well, after all, you will have a lot of grateful bailees who will happily hire you for $300,000 a pop." [ [ "Paging Paul Volcker. The former Fed chairman was tougher and less eager to please than his successor, Alan Greenspan"] . By Jeremy Grantham. May 5, 2008. "Financial Week."]

ystemic versus systematic bias

There is some contention over the choice of the word "systemic" as opposed to "systematic".

"Systemic bias" and the older, more common expression "systematic bias" are often used to refer to the same thing; some users seek to draw a distinction between them, suggesting that systemic bias is most frequently associated with human systems, and related to favouritism.

In engineering and computational mechanics, the word "bias" is sometimes used as a synonym of systematic error. In this case, the bias is referred to the result of a measurement or computation, rather than to the measurement instrument or computational method. Thus, expressions such as "bias of a measure" are sometimes used. "Systematic bias" is rarely used and "systemic bias" is never used with that meaning.

Some authors try to draw a distinction between systemic and systematic corresponding to that between unplanned and planned, or to that between arising from the characteristics of a system and from an individual flaw. In a less formal sense, "systemic" biases are sometimes said to arise from the nature of the interworkings of the system, whereas "systematic" biases stem from a concerted effort to favor certain outcomes. Consider the difference between affirmative action (systematic) compared to racism and caste (systemic).


Further reading

* [ "Commerce Dept. Accused Of Systemic Bias"] . By John Files. October 6, 2005. "New York Times."
* [ "Clinton Postpones Inmate's Execution. Systemic Bias To Be Studied"] . By Deb Riechmann, "Associated Press." December 8, 2000. "Miami Herald."

ee also

* Bigotry
* Cognitive bias
* Discrimination
* Cultural Health
* Ethnocentrism
* Inherent bias
* Institutional racism
* Paradigm shift
* Prejudice

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