Cal: But do you accept that confirmation bias is real, and that if one is wrong because of its effects the one would be irrational?
Because it seems like you're trying to say that confirmation bias isn't real, and that it doesn't affect thinking in a way that would make one irrational. If that's the case, you'd be wrong on both counts.
VR: No, neither. First, what I am questioning isn't the reality of confirmation bias, nor the fact that it can lead to irrationality. Satta M's description seems accurate:
It's more like the Principle of Total Evidence- actively seeking out evidence that disconfirms your hypothesis, not just that which confirms it.
Fine, I get that. People should look for reasons on both sides, and failure to do so leads to mistakes. You could get the right answer while suffering from confirmation bias, but you decrease your chances if you do.
My complaint is not with the idea. But the idea, it seems to me, is best used as a tool for self-evaluation. Insofar as my memory is accurate, I am privy to all of the information that goes into my decision to believe this or that. You are not privy to that information. Consequently, you are not in a position to figure out what I have considered and what I haven't.
It isn't just a matter of what you read, it is also a matter of how charitably you read it. If I trust the authority of someone who tells me "Sure, read this stuff, but make sure you don't buy any of it, because you don't want any of your money going for that guy's royalties, since the stuff he writes sucks so badly," then even if you read stuff from that side you will be reading it not to understand it, but to look for something to pounce on.
It seems to me that, when confirmation bias is used as a tool not for self-analysis, but to explain the disagreement of our opponents, it goes something like this.
"I know I have analyzed this issue correctly, and cannot possibly be wrong. So there must be some explanation for why someone whose intelligence is supposed to be a great or greater than mine has come to the opposite conclusion. I know, it's confirmation bias!" That is, rather than seeking to understand one's opponents position and to figure out whether perhaps there is a parameter of the issue that one has failed to consider, you use the idea of confirmation bias to say "Mistakes were made, but not by me." It just seems to me that the people who yell the loudest about other people's confirmation bias look like people who suffer from it most themselves, and don't realize it. People use the idea of confirmation bias to do exactly what the idea of confirmation bias should teach you NOT to do. It's like the people who listen to sermons some vice in church and start thinking of who other than themselves ought particularly to listen to that message.
I happen to have spent some time in Barnes and Noble the other day, and paged through the Loftus volumes The Christian Delusion and The End of Christianity. Both those volumes include good, interesting, challenging stuff for Christian apologists. The funny thing was that both books contained endorsements by Christians, and even Christian apologists like Randal Rauser and Matt Flanagan. They both said that while, of course, they didn't agree with the conclusions of Loftus et al, they thought that reading the contents of those books would be helpful for anyone trying to think through apologetical issues. What strikes me as odd here is that I don't think John would be caught dead putting an endorsement on some volume by apologetical authors, such as True Reason or Contending with Christianity's Critics, suggesting that the contents of that volume would be a worthwhile challenge for atheists.