Imagine this situation: you and someone else, perhaps a friend or relative, are on different sides of a political issue. You both go to watch a debate, or panel discussion, or some similar public forum. You hear both sides argue their cases and it gradually occurs to you that it’s really one sided. The organisers have picked speakers for your side whose expertise isn’t really relevant, or who don’t really know what they’re talking about, or can’t really articulate a case.
You come out of the event, ready to say this, but your companion tells you first: “that was really one sided. They really set up my side to fail.”
How could both of you feel this way? Is it necessarily the case that one of you is right about the debate having an agenda, and one of you is wrong?
Well, maybe, sometimes. But I think we often leap to this conclusion far more often than it actually applies. I think what’s also likely is something I call the Qanda Illusion.
The Qanda illusion applies to a situation where a debate, forum, discussion etc. features such poor presentation of both sides of the argument that people on either side will see bias against them.
This happens because there’s a fair chance you don’t know the opposing case as well as your own. You will assume that the other side is presenting its best arguments. You’ll notice every time your own advocates screw up, but you won’t notice the other side’s omissions. You’ll hear the same tired arguments you’ve rebutted in your own head a thousand times, and wonder why no one on your side is addressing them.
But anyone on the other side of this will see exactly the same problem applied to their case!
The illusion is that although the debate appears to be skewed, there is no bias. There is only the pretence of evidence or other information and a failure to deliver all around.