Divergent Ideas of Bias

Besides the character of psychological processes and their measurement, differing understandings held by various segments of the population also add to the test bias controversy. Researchers and laypeople view bias differently. Clinicians and other professionals bring additional divergent views. Many lawyers see bias as illegal, discriminatory practice on the part of organizations or individuals (Reynolds, 2000a; Reynolds & Brown, 1984a).

To the public at large, bias sometimes conjures up notions of prejudicial attitudes. A person seen as prejudiced may be told, "You're biased against Hispanics." For other laypersons, bias is more generally a characteristic slant in another person's thinking, a lack of objectivity brought about by the person's life circumstances. A sales clerk may say, "I think sales clerks should be better paid." "Yes, but you're biased," a listener may retort. These views differ from statistical and research definitions for bias as for other terms, such as significant, association, and confounded. The highly specific research definitions of such terms are unfamiliar to almost everyone. As a result, uninitiated readers often misinterpret research reports.

Both in research reports and in public discourse, the scientific and popular meanings of bias are often conflated, as if even the writer or speaker had a tenuous grip on the distinction. Reynolds, Lowe, et al. (1999) suggest that the topic would be less controversial if research reports addressing test bias as a scientific question relied on the scientific meaning alone.

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