Tag: bias

Consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance

My go-to explanation of acceptable political opinions is usually the Overton Window, but this week I came across Hallin’s spheres:

Hallin’s spheres is a theory of media objectivity posited by journalism historian Daniel C. Hallin in his book The Uncensored War to explain the coverage of the Vietnam war. Hallin divides the world of political discourse into three concentric spheres: consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance. In the sphere of consensus, journalists assume everyone agrees. The sphere of legitimate controversy includes the standard political debates, and journalists are expected to remain neutral. The sphere of deviance falls outside the bounds of legitimate debate, and journalists can ignore it. These boundaries shift, as public opinion shifts.


I think the interesting thing right now for either theory is that most people have their news filtered by social networks. As a result, it’s not (just) journalists doing the filtering, but people in affinity groups.

Useful mental models

While there’s nothing worse than a pedantic philosopher (I’m looking at you Socrates) it’s definitely worth remembering that, as human beings, we’re subject to biases.

This long list of mental models from Farnam Street is worth going through. I particularly like Hanlon’s Razor:

Hard to trace in its origin, Hanlon’s Razor states that we should not attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity. In a complex world, using this model helps us avoid paranoia and ideology. By not generally assuming that bad results are the fault of a bad actor, we look for options instead of missing opportunities. This model reminds us that people do make mistakes. It demands that we ask if there is another reasonable explanation for the events that have occurred. The explanation most likely to be right is the one that contains the least amount of intent.

Another that’s come in handy is the Fundamental Attribution Error:

We tend to over-ascribe the behavior of others to their innate traits rather than to situational factors, leading us to overestimate how consistent that behavior will be in the future. In such a situation, predicting behavior seems not very difficult. Of course, in practice this assumption is consistently demonstrated to be wrong, and we are consequently surprised when others do not act in accordance with the “innate” traits we’ve endowed them with.

A list to return to time and again.

Source: Farnam Street