Bias and Opinion

My history teacher in Wales said “Without opinion the sources are boring – bland” (OWTTE).

In IB History we don’t really say “Bias” anymore, because an opinionated source is just as useful as a relatively neutral source. I say “relatively neutral” because there is no such thing as an opinion-less source. We use the model OPVL (Origin Purpose Value Limitations) to use the Origin and Purpose to talk about the Values and Limitations of a source. So we’d say that this guy is an American right-wing historian and is trying to villainise the left wing Russians or whatever. But the problem comes if it’s say a right-wing holocaust-denier who is trying to talk about Germany. The historian will factor out evidence that is accepted in order to push a revised view.

And so it seems to me that the difference between bias and opinion is the intent and the manner. When the author goes beyond the meanings to select harsher words, there is bias. I could say “Stalin was a mass-murdering monster obsessed with consolidation of his power” or I could say “Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians, Slavs and Asians in his consolidation of power”. The difference is one appeals to emotion and attempts to slander the man. The other deals with facts and doesn’t dupe the less careful  reader into a polarized viewpoint.


I am likely missing the point though.



(This is where the teachers nod)

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4 comments to Bias and Opinion

  • Jennifer

    Then do you think it’ll be okay if we read that kind of sources (eg:Stalin) knowing that they’re biased? And what if the harsher words are actually true?

  • Averil

    Yes, I agree with Jennifer. I’m a little confused about this point as well. What happens if I’ve got a bias against say.. puke. And I think i’d be right to not like puke and think of puke as purely negative. Anyway, my point is that: what happens if someone’s got a bias and that bias is right? What if stallin WAS a complete sadistic terrible evil monster? What happens then?

  • John

    The vocabulary used in a source definitely seems to be a grey area when it comes to bias. I think you make some good points their about the appeal to emotion as opposed to more impartial account. But, like you said, history just wouldn’t be any fun with completely impartial accounts.

  • Charles Goh

    Biased views of the world are essential when it comes to understanding why someone or a group of people think in a particular way, and how they have come to whatever conclusion they have made. For example, Jeniffer, your view that the unintented regurgitation of chyme is negative. Through your experience you realise that puking causes unpleasant feelings, therefore your bias is that puking is negative. This is a valid reason and a valid biased conclusion.

    However, “what happens if someone’s got a bias and that bias is right?” Well, you will never know if someone has a bias that is “Right” because there is no right or wrong. If you take into account bias in Biology, doctors will say that the puking is a lifesaving immune response from your body, therefore puking is good. Would you agree? No. Both biases have their underlying reasons, both are valid, but we cannot say one is right and the other wrong.

    Therefore, your question about Stallin is controversial. What if he WAS a complete sadistic terrible evil monster? Such a statement, if converted to: Stallin is a compelte sadistic terrible evil monster would be a biased opinion. To explain this, I shall use my favourite historical figure: Hitler. People all have this bias about hitler that he is evil, sadistic etc… The way in which they obtained that conclusion is valid: “his actions during the last few years of his life caused the deaths of many”. Nevertheless, have you considered the opposing view? Hitler was an animal activist. He refused to eat meat and did not allow his officers to eat meat during ceremones. His military campaign was perhaps one of patriotism. Under French oppression, the Nazis, led by Hitler literally obliterated the French. If you look at it in the point of view of a normal German living under French oppression at that time, Hitler was a true hero. See what I mean by the What if topic being controversial? Both biases, Hitler is evil, and Hitler is hero, are equally valid.

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