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Systemic bias

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Systemic bias is the inherent tendency of a process to favor particular outcomes. The term is a neologism that generally refers to human systems; the analogous problem in non-human systems (such as scientific observations) is often called systemic error.

It and the older, more common term 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 situations that appear to be cases of favoritism, but are actually the result of underlying, often invisible mechanisms or unconscious perceptions by individuals in the system.

Bias in human institutions Edit

One might refer, for example, to the systemic, systematic, or institutional bias of a particular institution in devaluing contributions by women 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 participants or entirely unconscious.

For example, the poetry contest might be judged by a pool drawn from its own previous winners: after all, who better to judge a poetry contest than prize-winning poets? 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 claim[citation needed] that a reverse systemic bias now exists.

Systemic versus systematic biasEdit

There is some contention over the choice of the word systemic as opposed to systematic. When it is used to contrast with random error, in that it is not just a matter of inaccurate results or readings, but results that are persistently inaccurate in a particular way, then the more common usage is systematic bias or systematic error.

Some users of the phrase 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).

See alsoEdit

it:Pregiudizio sistemico
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