I recently read a short column by gadget reviewer Vlad Savov in The Verge provocatively titled “My reviews are biased — that’s why you should trust them” which made me think. In it, Vlad addresses the accusation he hears often that he’s biased:
“Of course I’m biased, that’s the whole point… subjectivity is an inherent — and I would argue necessary — part of making these reviews meaningful. Giving each new device a decontextualized blank slate to be reviewed against and only asserting the bare facts of its existence is neither engaging nor particularly useful. You want me to complain about the chronically bloopy Samsung TouchWiz interface while celebrating the size perfection of last year’s Moto X. Those are my preferences, my biased opinions, and it’s only by applying them to the pristine new phone or tablet that I can be of any use to readers. To be perfectly impartial would negate the value of having a human conduct the review at all. Just feed the new thing into a 3D scanner and run a few algorithms over the resulting data to determine a numerical score. Job done.”
As Vlad points out, bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and, in an expert you’re asking for advice from, its probably a good thing. Now whether or not Vlad has unhelpful biases or is someone who’s opinion you value is a separate question entirely, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned — an unbiased opinion is oftentimes an uneducated one.
In my experience, “unbiased opinions” tend to come from panderers who fit one of three criteria:
- they think you don’t want them to express an opinion and are trying to respect your wishes
- they don’t know anything
- they are trying to sell you something, not mutually exclusive with (2)
The individuals who are the most knowledgeable and thoughtful about a topic almost certainly have a bias and that’s a bias that you want to hear.