Bias Bound?

Photo 3

So, I was constructing a child’s bishop dress over the weekend and became introspective (as you do).

As a librarian, I teach people how to evaluate content for its credibility, which often translates into the author not showing bias or opinion. While some professors do allow non-objective sources in their assignments (as long as the point of view is noted), most want their students to rely on peer-review articles that have no bias, or slant.

One of the last things you do on a bishop is apply the neckband. This is made from a strip of fabric cut on the bias, on the diagonal of the fabric’s weave. Because the threads cross on an “x” instead of a “+”, it has flexibility and elasticity.

In sewing, knowing if your fabric is on-grain or on-bias is essential to creating something beautiful, lasting, and functional. A grainline marking can be found on every commercially-produced pattern piece.

Given that fabric can be distorted by pulling on the bias, I can understand perhaps why this word was chosen to denote personal opinion that might sway or influence a writer toward a certain conclusion.

The thing is, bias is as beneficial to sewing as on-grain. It allows binding to curve around necklines and armholes. It creates gorgeous evening gowns that flow around the body.

The dress that started this all, if not a curvy evening gown…

Look inside the collar of your favorite button-down shirt. Odds are good that one side of that neckband is on-grain, while the other is on bias. That gorgeous pointed collar stands up and curves around your neck because of the bias side. The grain side keeps it in-form and undistorted. In women’s trousers (and many men’s), you’ll find the same thing on your waistband. Bias has flexibility; grain has strength. By laying them against each other, you can have the benefits of each without weakness.

Which brings me back to research and information literacy. It’s so easy to default to the idea that opinion, or bias, is bad, objective is good. That’s only showing half the picture. We rarely talk about the value of opinion and that it can also be credible, if you evaluate the source just like a journal author.

I don’t know how to go about this. In the end, we help patrons (students, in my case) fulfill their information needs, often outlined by a professor.

But are we truly making them information literate, or just teaching a bias against opinion?



  1. I find it helpful to remember that *everything* has bias. The canons of academic inquiry and writing are (at their best) about identifying, critiquing, and eliminating as many sources of bias as possible, or (at their worst) about writing in a particular style that we emotionally label “bias free” whether or not it is. But we are still humans operating in cultural contexts, so we still have biases (some of them invisible to us, or visible only if we have significant experience with another culture). Best to learn how to recognize the guidelines.

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