Belief, confirmation bias and softwood lumber

Two letters in last week's paper illustrated the power of belief.

In one, the writer critiqued a previous letter in which the author had praised the Lord for Donald Trump. In the original letter, the author seemed to think God favoured Trump and hated all the other candidates. In the rebuttal letter, the author asked quite rightly if God controlled American elections, doesn't this mean Barack Obama was also God's choice?

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I suspect the faithful would say "yes, he was sent chosen by God as a test of our faith" or something similar.

Some might even see Obama as a much more Christian president than the president-elect. In any case, no matter how you spin things, if you believe in Trump, then everything can be made to seem as if he is the best of all possible choices.

The second letter was a refutation of the comments by the coach of the Regina Pats. It pointed out his belief in his team's superiority is much mistaken.

After all, the Cougars are the best team - right now.

Both of these letters are about beliefs - either in Trump or the Cougars. They are also examples of confirmation bias.

"This is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities," according to Wikipedia.

I added the source because a number of people will now say something like "but Wikipedia isn't a real encyclopedia so that can't be right" and demonstrate a form of confirmation bias.

It wouldn't really matter from which source I pulled the definition as they are all pretty much the same.

Confirmation bias is simply the tendency to look at things through our own worldview and weight information accordingly. We all do this.

For example, I tend to look at actions by governments with a great deal of skepticism.

My worldview tends to be one in which governments will always act in their own best interest which is generally appealing to their perceived base.

So when I read the government's website pointing out all of the environmental initiatives they are engaged in, I tend to think "yeah, but would they be doing this if they didn't need to win the environmental vote in the next election?"

The answer is they likely would.

For example, despite being a right wing political party, the B.C. Liberals do care about the environment in which we live.

I really do think the premier is trying to do the best job she can to ensure we have a healthy environment.

I also believe she is doing the best job she can to ensure we have a growing economy and that sometimes the environment and the economy clash.

It is at these moments the government falters.

After all, if the choice is between the economy and the environment, I believe this government and any government which wants to remain in power will choose the economy.

That is my worldview and it biases the way I see things. I fight with this every time I sit down to write a column. Every author of a column does the same thing.

For some people, though, they are so certain their worldview is right they never question it, which brings me to the point I wanted to make today about softwood lumber.

To no one's surprise, the U.S. Lumber Coalition has asked the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission to restore the conditions of "fair trade" for softwood lumber.

Yes, the battle of the woods is once again in full swing. The American government will impose duties on softwood lumber producers and our local economy will suffer the consequences.

Ironically, so will the American consumer as these duties will mean higher prices for homes and for commercial lumber sales.

The coalition believes it is fighting the noble cause of ensuring their mills do not suffer harm, their workers are paid fair wages and their companies make a profit. The consumer will just have to bear the brunt of the resulting outcome in this fight.

At the heart of the dispute is the belief provincial governments provide trees to Canadian producers at rates well below fair market value. The structure of our economy is different from the American economy. We still believe government should have a role in maintaining and managing our forests.

We do not believe "private enterprise" is the only way to run a business or an industry.

Neither side is willing to accept the other's belief system. Our industrial worldviews are pretty much set. Both sides will look for evidence confirming their position while discounting the evidence presented by the other side.

As a result, we are in for a long and drawn out trade war.

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