Friday, March 12, 2010

Understanding Bias through Mission Statements

One of the frequent remarks I hear is the difficulty in finding good, unbiased sources of information. While biased interpretations can be difficult to filter out, I have found a certain consistency between the level of objectivity in which facts are presented and an organization's mission statement. Here are a few examples.

Current Events/Economics

Fiscal conservatives are often pointing to the CATO Institute and Heritage Foundation as objective think tanks. The irony is they openly admit a filtered presentation of facts on their own mission statements/about sections.

Cato's Mission

The mission of the Cato Institute is to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace. The Institute will use the most effective means to originate, advocate, promote, and disseminate applicable policy proposals that create free, open, and civil societies in the United States and throughout the world.

Our Mission

To formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

In other words, these organizations aren't here to crunch data and interpret results objectively. They are here to make the facts fit the argument for limited government and a freer markets. Right or wrong, the answers is always the same; government spending doesn't work (it requires more government so it mustn't work), climate change is a myth (and even if it isn't it's probably best to slowly let the free market handle it and not the government), in health care, single payer or a public option would be a disaster (it requires government) etc.


Now let's take an example that may be a bit less ambiguous. Creation science (laugh all you want, but YouTube is filled with videos like this, the blogosphere is filled with blogs like this, because the United States lags in acceptance of evolution as well as an understanding of genetics.

The Institute for Creation Research

ICR Research

For nearly 40 years, ICR has been the leader in scientific research from a biblical perspective, conducting innovative laboratory and field research in the major disciplines of science, as well as in ancient biblical studies and graduate science education.


We take the absolute truth and authority of the Bible to the world.
We teach the relevance of a literal Genesis to the mission fields of the world.
We obey God’s call for global evangelism for all ethnic groups in the world.

More objective sources include the US Geological Society, NASA, The National Academy of Sciences, and the Congressional Budget Office. Note they tend to be at odds with the small government stance, climate change and evolution skepticism of the aforementioned sources.

Mission: The USGS serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.

What Does NASA Do?

NASA's mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.


The National Academies perform an unparalleled public service by bringing together committees of experts in all areas of scientific and technological endeavor. These experts serve pro bono to address critical national issues and give advice to the federal government and the public.

About CBO

CBO's mandate is to provide the Congress with:

Objective, nonpartisan, and timely analyses to aid in economic and budgetary decisions on the wide array of programs covered by the federal budget and

The information and estimates required for the Congressional budget process.

In Summary

It's natural for people to take stances, quote the sources that verify their own and filter out contradicting data. Unfortunately it seems to be taken to the nth degree here in the US. Egos become embedded in opinions and what should become objective discourse becomes rhetorical guerilla warfare.

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