Blind Spots: A Screening, Live-Audience Test, and Conversation About Implicit Bias
A conversation with Robin Hauser and Mahzarin Banaji
November 12, 2019
Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute
7th Floor Commons
20 Cooper Square, NY
Kavli Conversations are hosted by NYU’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program with support from the Kavli Foundation. Events are open to the public. Webcast will begin at 7:00pm.
>> If I don’t catch myself, if I find out somebody that is a cat owner I really try hard to not let that interfere with my appreciation for them. I’m just being honest. How many of you know what I’m talking about? You know? I’m just being totally FWLAPTly — blatantly honest.
>> You have an honest bias as well.
>> I didn’t know I did this until someone called me out on it and I said I think you’re right. I have many — there are probably some biases I don’t even want to admit on stage but —
>> Well, let’s rephrase the question and say what are your professional biases?
>> Professional biases, well, let’s see —
>> For subject matter — an insistence on format.
>> I have a bias towards female empowerment. I’m very sensitive and concerned about men. Right now especially. And and I hear sort of this plight I think of men right now and especially white men who I think for the first time in a lot of their careers are feeling victimized whether it’s from the Me Too Movement or whatever I hear that and I find that really interesting. And I am thinking about it. I’m still biased toward doing as much work as I can to promote women but not at the expense of men.
>> And so what drew you to documentary filmmaking then in.
>> Well, I’ve always been a photographer since third grade.
And I love photography and I remember sitting in a theater in my early 20s and I saw a movie called born into brothels. A beautifully done documentary about brothels and actually about children that are born to professional women of the night in Calcutta and it was absolutely stunningly beautiful and I was so inspired by the way the story unfolded and I thought, wow, visual storytelling is amazing. Someday I want to do that and you always wonder when that someday might be but in 2010 my daughter was running cross country in high school and her team was involved in an incident that got national attention. In fact, international attention because their coach had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
>> I didn’t realize that was your daughter’s team.
>> A lot of people don’t and that’s okay. I don’t think I necessarily want to promote that but some documentarians came to me and I — because my daughter was involved wanted to get on board and make sure I could protect here and make sure it was really a story about the coach and about the disease more than it was about a certain individual on the team. So that was my first project. I learned a lot. I feel it was like going into film school.
>> So you worked as a —
>> I came on — I didn’t know what producer meant. But I came on as producer which in that situation meant, you know, find the money to make the film which I didn’t love but I also then got involved as a director and ultimately took the film over and finished it with the help of Dan N. but, yeah, that was — I really feel I went to — I think that whole purpose was just to go to film school basically. You know, in the field. Yeah.
>> You’re drawn to documentary filmmaking just simply by the accidents of the events in your life or —
>> I think I told you I’m a photographer.
>> But you’re not telling me that you immediately picked up the camera and took over as cinematographer. That’s why I was curious.
>> True. Yeah, no. I think I like just the story telling behind it especially. The business side I like. I have my MBA so for me I think approaching filmmaking as — with a business perspective is rather unique I’ve learned. It’s actually really been helpful to me in the BIEZ side business side of it.
I could not have done this without the help of the San Francisco film community. I think they HAUTH — thought I was a housewife that came into the industry.
I gained a little more respect. Talk about bias, right? Those of us who are working moms. After I made my first film it was tough but I wanted to make a second one which was debugging the gender gap and I thought maybe Silicon Valley would be interested in this and maybe silicon alley out here that film’s been to over 85 countries.
It’s been suggest — subtitled in many languages. What we D whether — did whether we wanted to
send this out or not.
We wanted to expose a certain issue. Why is Silicon Valley predominantly white male and are women not as good at programming. Why aren’t people of color more involved? Especially when they’re over a million unfilled computer science related jobs in the U.S. Think about that. That’s crazy. So why aren’t we filling them?
>> Because we can’t get enough of those visas to import people. Right?
>> That’s the wrong problem. Right? In problem is we have women and people of color right here in the United States to fill those positions. Why aren’t they applying for those jobs? Why aren’t they being hired for those jobs? So that was fascinating. We touched on issues people of color face. Not just in tech. I took the film to Cambodia and screened it in a fishing village. It was quite an experience.
>> I’m curious, feature filmmaking, entertainment industry filmmaking is famously hostile to women filmmakers is the documentary filmmaking community more or less supportive of women as filmmakers?
>> All I can talk about is my experience and I will tell you that I have not felt discriminated against because I’m a woman. Once in awhile if I’m working with maybe a director of photography that I haven’t worked with before they might try to, you know, explain something to me that I already know or they might dictate where they want to set up the shot and I do have to remind the crew gently that I’m director but most of the time I really don’t feel there’s a bias at all. I do think there’s a base in the media platform though. Against a lot — Netflix, Amazon, YouTube. So when this film came out — so decoding the gender gap. Netflix turned it down and a year later they asked for a two year licensing agreement because so many people had gone on their site looking for it. They said — they offered me a really small sum for two years. And when I balked at the price and said that seems really low they said well, you’re not a very well filmmaker. Read into that a little bit. And you’re a woman I said why does that matter? I got them to up the price but not by much. This time with this film. Amazon headquarters hired me to screen it at their headquarters. Netflix hired me to screen it for their employees. YouTube owned by Google has licensed it for all of their foreign vendors. YouTube asked to watch it for 14 times to decide if they want to bring it in-house and all of them turned it down for their original platform. When I questioned them about it their response to me was it’s a little bit too much like hall Mark. It’s a little intellectual if you think these platforms are dumbing content down for us. They are.
Yeah. They are. I mean, they’re looking for action, something that’s, you know, sexy, big production, crime, mystery, sex, drugs, that’s what they’re liking for or really well-known big names.
>> I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you. I was very curious though now as enjoyed this film considerable success despite the issues that these platforms are having with —
>> And those aren’t issues. I can get it on Amazon — it’s just interesting.
>> I’d like to back it up and say, how did you come to this particular approach to what is the larger concern of yours is about diversity in the workplace and you latched onto this research, this scientific thread which you’ve taken much further than I was expecting. I was not expecting this —
>> You mean the IUT specifically or the bias?
>> Well, bias. IUT is your jumping off point and then it sort of transforms and we end up with bias being belt into algorithms which of course is something we’re all
concerned with at the moment.
But I’m wondering what the spark on that views, what got you initially involved. You’re not someone at least a casual acquaintance wouldn’t consider you as a genre science filmmaker or, you know, a research —
>> I’m smarter than I look.
>> That’s not how I meant it.
>> I’m teasing you. So —
>> I’m easy to tease. Any I.
>> I — well I was sitting on a panel with about four other people. After screening of code debugging the gender gap and somebody in the audience asked how much implicit bias had to do with the fact that there weren’t more women and people of color in tech.
And I remember thinking, wow I hope that question is not asked at me because I didn’t really know. I hasn’t really considered what unconscious bias was. And somebody on the panel was familiar with the term. This was about four years ago. And answered the question and then I began to hear it more and more and then certainly as Trump began to run, you would hear the expression a lot more and I thought this is fascinating what. Is unconscious bias? And so the more I studied it the more I thought, this is crazy, here’s something that is humans. It’s a survival heuristic. As humans this is something that we all have and that made sense. Right? Thousands of years ago when we had to worry about our — people that weren’t like us. We had to protect ourselves and we were our tribe and we had to be suspicious of any other tribe that wasn’t like us. But now, we’re trying to live amongst people of all different backgrounds, all different religions, all different beliefs. Right? Cultures. And so our world is becoming even though it’s fully segregated in a lot of ways. Much less segregated than thousands of years ago. We haven’t adapted necessarily to not have that anymore. We still have it in us. How is that useful in the modern world and what do we do with the fact that we are all bias. We cannot see our implicit biases. Once you become aware of a certain base, okay, wow, now I know I have an association for — stronger association of women family and men in career. I’m aware of that but what about all the biases I’m not aware of that I hold and that I have and how does that effect me in the workplace? Well, look around, there’s like me bias for example that we all suffer from.
>> Let me ask you a question about you and your workplace. Many of us here are journalists or are studying to be journalists. It’s particularly interesting watching your film for instance I was very struck for how you source your film. Struck in a nice way. It had a wonderful cross section of expertise and of faces and of points of view that I think you would not normally see in the collection of talking heads. And that’s to your credit. I’m wondering how as a filmmaker you sat down and sort of dealt with in a concrete way and anticipated how your biases were going to work your way in a film with choosing sources or what questions to ask or what questions not to ask. Did you adopt or adapt techniques to reflect your growing understanding of this?
>> Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I don’t think there are questions that I would ever not ask but I do believe that I have learned not to just trust my own opinion anymore. And not to just ask somebody who is a mini me either/or just like me. It’s likely that woman would have the
When we did test screenings I went out and made an effort to find very diverse crowd to — I mean, we were literally pulling people off the treat. Because we wanted to test this not with a bunch of people that might be like minded or in my group but people who come from completely different backgrounds.
So really get a sense of, you know, what’s the consensus here? So it’s changed, now I think that it could — filmmaker documentarian would do that anyway. Other people want to surround themselves with a certain cocoon and it’s easier you go home a lot sooner.
>> I think one of the things that medical writers in particular struggle with in this regard is the problem of the expertise and authority problem. Any .
>> Confirmation bias.
>> There’s a system that produces respective voices and we now understand that that system has certain flaws and certain pushes things in a certain direction. Eliminates some voices and elevates others.
But still at the end of the day when you’re on deadline and looking for the right quote you go for the authority which tends to have a reinforce ing effect. That’s why it was so interested in how you source this had film.
Because it was really quite wonderful.
>> First and foremost S the person well-respected and are they an ex
pert in their field?
That obviously irregardless of color, race, religion, gender, what matters first is have they proven themselves to be an expert or somebody that is well respected and that’s the same for quoting a study or any source, right I think that’s something we all need to look at and be careful of. The same way that if a — if I interview somebody that’s, you know, says a quote or quotes a fact, we fact check it. We can’t put it in the film unless we fact check it from a credible source. Sometimes you’re not always going to get the people that you want to get in your film. There might be right now I’m doing a film that I’m looking for Dan, a behavioral scientist. I’d like to interview him for it but he’s in Israel and my budget concerns can’t get to Israel right now. So sometimes you think and I asked him is there anybody else that you would recommend I speak to who has studied this. He did. She happened to be at Stanford, perfect, I’ll go there. So those are concerns and that’s the way that we move about it. Now if I end up with three voices in a film and they’re all saying the same thing, and they are all different individuals but all saying the same thing. If I know where it is in the film and I have three women that have said things and I want more diversity and I need a man and I have the choice of putting that — a byte from a man in there, I will use that probably. Do you see what I’m saying because that’s the balance in a film and the same goes for, you know, people of color or anything. If they’re experts and already been interviewed then I do look at a balance.
>> No, but you could use specifically not just a man, but an African American man or an Asian-American man, that’s what was so interesting when it — you like broke rhythm to go to the male voice. It wasn’t a European North American male voice that’s what was so striking among other things and we have a question here. So I’m going to —
>> — empower you.
>> Yes. So I really enjoyed the film and I — something that I was kind of left with at the end is wondering what can we do once we identify these bias? Especially as journalists that are going to be covering a diverse city of issues. You sort of touched on that at the end of the film in terms of hiring process and things but that still didn’t get to the root of the issue is now that I’m aware of this, what do I do with that information?
>> Yeah. I mean, it’s a great question. And we didn’t try to provide solutions specifically toward, you know, journalists for example and, by the way, there were tons of vices that we didn’t cover but we could have but in one film it’s hard to do. I think that probably I think that, I mean, as journalists we need to make sure we don’t go to just one type of source in order to confirm what we already believe. Right? When we try to prove a point about something it’s easy to just go to the sources that we know are going to confirm that. And it’s called confirmation bias. Right? And so it’s really important to say, well, what is the other side of the story? And present that as well. I think it’s a great — I remember being taught this in negotiation skills. Present the other side of the story first and then present the part that you believe and show why that’s a stronger case. Or you just present facts and let your audience decide but I think it’s really important to also — I think the number one easiest thing you can do, which isn’t that easy, but is to ask people that aren’t like you what they think.
>> Yeah. This is a really central question because journalists, I mean as a group this operates for us on two levels. There’s dealing with the biases built into the subject matter and the news event and the various vibes that are powerfully operating at a given moment and then there’s our own baggage which of course is what your film is about. Do you have a debiassing toolkit? I mean you mentioned for instance to me, when we were talking beforehand, that you will take sometimes your questions for an interview and take them to a different person.
A not you. And have them look at them. To give feedback. Do you have any other, like, techniques you have acquired that you can share with us. We would like to do better on this. People are hard enough on us as it is.
>> In hiring they tell you to get a diverse interview panel. So don’t just do the interviewing and choosing yourself because you cannot get beyond your own like me bias. So I’m obviously going to gravitate towards somebody who, you know, is — went to UC Berkley and, you know, was a runner and likes to ski on the weekends and loves photography. That person is safe to me because I understand that person because they’re like me. And so whereas somebody maybe that went to school in Atlanta, just throwing that out there and has a totally different experience and background — I can’t relate to that person as easily until I get to know them so — but that person might be a much better hire. Because they’re presenting a different perspective which is going to make sure that I can think on those levels. You’re never going to surround yourself with every perspective out there in the world but you can ask the people around you what do you think of this? And then somehow come to a collective decision. I mean, in the end, the article’s years. The film’s mine, the piece is that. So it depend on what makes you sleep at night and do you want to write something that just says, look, this is the way I feel about it. I don’t care, some people are going to agree. But this is what I feel. Or do you want to say, I’m exploring something. I’m an investigative reporter and —
>> Right. Absolutely. I’m sure there’s no one here that would disagree with that, part if I understood it correctly, part of the power of your documentary is that you’re talking about something that we’re not aware of consciously and therefore we’re not in control of. So therefore, only in the most generic way do we know kind of in an academic frontal lobe sense, oh, yeah, I’m sure I have this problem somewhere but I don’t know what it is yet. So that’s what I’m asking about. How do I diagnose and correct for that as a reporter in.
>> This is the issue. It’s not that easy. I will give you a quick example. I recently did a TedX talk. I was using personal examples because TED loves that. I wrote personal examples and I was telling a story about how I was talking to a man at a cocktail party and I asked what he did and he said fintech and I said what is that and he said it’s complicated. I use that as an example and the two white male 50-60-year-olds who were curating said to me, Robin we found your — and I had two or three other stories like that. They said we found your exams to be a little weak. And
I was like weak?
They don’t seem to have enough of a punch. And I said, well, I’m not writing about sexual harassment. I don’t think — I can but I don’t think this is about the mission. And they said maybe you need a line this there about how it’s a death by a thousand. I said, are you killing me? This happens to you all the time. It’s death by a thousand cuts. They said put that in there. The truth is they were really worried and when I went on stage there were probably more women than men in the audience but 800 people and from the first sort of story like that I told the audience reacted to it. They’re like oh my God, that happens to me and when I came off stage both of those two men who by the way were — have become friends of mine looked at me and they went, oh my God, the audience loved that. They totally related. And I looked at them and said I find that amazing that you’re so surprised. I don’t think I said that but that was my thought. I was like yeah, great.
>> It’s complicated.
>> Isn’t that amazing that they just couldn’t see it because they don’t understand what that feels like. Does that make sense to anybody here? It is just the — you can’t see it for yourself if you don’t understand what it’s like. And there’s so many things that you can relate to that I can’t experience. We can’t always relate but wick — we can have empathy.
In terms of tools, there are all sorts of tools, technology tools and apps now to help people mitigate biases. Catching words that we use and certain applicants for example. But this is why this is such an issue. There is no easy fix.
>> I have an easy fix because I have a question.
>> Hi. My name’s Demetri. I’m a civil engineer major. I’m not a journalist. Have you related based on how big a bias they would have. So let’s take for example someone lives out in the suburbs, drives to work everyday. Basically sees the same people on a daily basis and you have someone living on the upper west side is basically exposed to a whole bunch of people only by going to work. So have you seen that relation based on the people you’ve talked to?
>> That is such a great question and I can answer this without putting words in the doctor’s mouth but in her absence I can tell you that I asked her the this question once and this is — I will paraphrase but this is what she told me. You would think that somebody said out in an area that is much more segregated that that we were would have more biases. That’s what I thought. In fact, somebody that lives downtown Manhattan is likely to have more biases. Because those biases are confirmed ere single day.
If you don’t have as much experience with, say, somebody from the Middle East you don’t have any perceptions formed in your mind about that type of person. However that type of person in bias speak. However, if you get your nails done everyday or every week by Vietnamese and if you — every deli you go to is run by a Jew and if you get your newspaper the person from the Middle East. Do you see what I’m saying? If you do that, that behavior over and over and over that reinforces your biases and associations with that type of person. So studies have shown that people in areas like this can have stronger biases. Does that make sense.
>> Yeah. I just want to know — basically we have people building these models for AI because your next iPhone could be like a pair of glasses which could block a black person down the street.
>> Face recognition has a hard time recognizing dark skin. Especially dark skinned women. When you think about automated cars driving. Think about how dangerous that is for a dark skinned woman walking across the street. It’s — there are — I’m sure you heard about the problem with Google Images where they misidentified two African Americans as gorillas. I mean, that was a problem and Google was like, oh, ha, oops, sorry and they apologized but they did they about the impact that that had on those individuals? And I think — and then that’s just — that was that experience and you can imagine the implications of that when you start to use that technology in things like self-driving cars. Like how dangerous it is. And I think that what it seems because look, if we were making drugs the FDA would have to approve. It takes forever and some people would say, look, my child’s dying, I need that drug. Why is this such a difficult process? The problem is in tech there is no FDA. Right? There is no regulation for the most part. And especially with data and data input there’s no regulation. So what happens is in this effort to get these products out and be the first to do it they’re being launched when they’re basically half baked and so, yeah, they might work 80% of the time but who’s responsible for the 20% of the time when they’re adversely affecting the population?
>> Well, I mean in the case where there is traditional regulation the FDA is wrestling with AI in areas where these products have never existed before and the criminal justice example is an unsettling example of that. We never had a product that is being offered to substitute for the judgment of the judiciary.
>> As long as you use historical data then historical data in the United States A a black man is incarcerated at five rates
that of a white man.
If they use that historical data then their algorithms are going to be biased.
>> I want to go back to the topic of bias and your film. The very going of your film you sort of linger a bit understand understandably that women have in start-ups.
I wonder how hard was it for you to raise the money and make this film and what you did to do that. Indiegogo.
>> I hate crowdfunding.
>> Well you hate crowdfunding but you made 56,000 dollars.
>> I did. I did. I find it easier to ask for 200,000 to someone with money.
>> Do you mind telling us how that work.
>> Crowdfunding’s great but it takes so much work.
>> All of us now are kind of independent.
>> Yeah. So I — my last two films I have raised through corporate — a lot of it, not all of it through corporate sponsorship and interesting because there’s judgment around that. Traditionally documentarians — firstly I was told I wouldn’t get funds and I said okay, that to me, I love a challenge. I thought, that’s SCOMBREGS interesting. Someone said that’s great as long as you’re not being biased by the corporation.
And I said that’s easy I will have them sign something that says they have zero input or control. I said I would try this to go for people who have a lot of money. Who should care about the fact that there’s not enough diversity in tech. Tech companies should care about that. I went out there look for fund. The first company that came out was city ventures, run by all women and they were fabulous.
And they came in and once I had a name like CITI it was easy to get other companies and I then got Capital One bank, MasterCard, Sysco, Adobe, some really awesome companies that came —
>> How did you land an awesome company?
>> I read a lot of articles. And then when I find out somebody that quotes — is quoted that says Martha Smith cares deeply about diversity in tech and they’re making efforts at Intel to broaden blah blah blah. I have to spend some money to get to this point. So I’ll make a sizzle reel. I’ll have a five or seven minute piece that has some people in and it talks about what the issue S. — is. Gives them a sense of the production value and that I’m a real filmmaker and how this is going to look.
Then I send that out and I send e-mails and ask for calls and then I’ll go to CITI and say you are supporting this. Is there anyone else you can introduce me to and they will say there’s one at IBM you should maybe talk to.
>> This is not the traditional foundation. .
>> Oh my God, people think I’m crazy. I have done more lectures on how to raise money that way in the film industry.
It shocked me. They said will you share your letter with me. And I tell everybody, I will share everybody except the name and e-mail address and phone number because obviously that’s my relationship with somebody that’s very unique but it’s a personal — it didn’t start out being personal but I owe them a responsibility to say, hey, everybody has money. But that — it surprised me and I think this is my coming from a business background it surprised my that nobody had done this before. Not nobody. But you see documentary films sponsored by exon. In my case I said I am not going — I had one consulting firm say to me we’ll put money in if we’re only the consulting firm. I said I’m making a film about diversity and inclusion. I’m not going to do that. They said, well, it was worth trying. I did not — I told everybody, I got like three different banks. I will say if you wanted this level I will give you an exclusive presenting sponsor or something. But I made sure that none of them — and then they can all remove their logo from the film. Not their funds but their logo if in the end they don’t like the film.
>> Question. You’ve been very patient.
>> I’d like to build on the previous question. And which you discussed how exposure to the people of other groups can reinforce your stereotypes. In that list of examples you gave like a person from Vietnam who does your nails or a Jewish person who runs your deli those were all sort of low level commercial interactions. Do you have any information on how that might change if you acquired a close association with someone from another group. If you joined a book club of people from a different race or if you kid came out gay or trans.
>> Again, I’m not an expert on unconscious bias. I’ve just been studying it for three years or so but from what I learned, in that case, any exposure that you have to a person or a group of people is going to inform your opinion about them. Just like I’m forming — you’re forming an opinion on me right now. Whether you choose to do that about blonde women or just about specifically me it’s up to you. I can’t control that. Right? So if you are in a book group with people different than you and you formulate an opinion or — an opinion it’s very possible that that is going to live as a bias within you. It can be a positive one. A negative one but it’s our experiences that form those bias. As the doctor says it’s the thumbprint of our culture on our brain. So some of it comes from so far long ago. You know? That, you know, we couldn’t — you can’t control it. You don’t even know it’s there but for instance if you all have an opinion about people in California. You are like only California girls are just vacant and then you suddenly visit me and you said, gosh, I didn’t realize. I assumed they were all one way but now I’m realizing they’re not so that can help transform your bias. Any thank you.
>> You’re working on one project.
>> I am. I did a shoot. I am shooting at Sally’s company who runs, do you know about elevate? It’s a woman’s —
>> Why don’t you share it with us?
>> So the film I’m making now is called savvy in and the S is a dollar sign.
I thought of that at three in the morning one morning but it’s about financial illiteracy and I was absolutely shocked at the number of women even millennials that turnover their finances and their major financial decisions to their male partner. It’s something that concerns me because I feel we should be financially dependent but the more I look ate the more it fascinates me why we do this. There are cultural implications and societal and really interesting gender dynamics that make us do this. So the film is about how, you know, why — it’s our relationship with money. Men, women, nonbinary. Couples, whether you’re same sex couple or heterosexual couple relationships with money. Yeah so I’m going to do a little filmmaking on the New York Stock Exchange.
>> Is anything you learned in your three years in investigating imprejudice sit bias — implicit bias informing your next project.
>> Absolutely. I think it always does. The biggest thing I’m struggling with right now is even in writing the synopsis but will evolve as a documentary, you know, progresses but is do I make this film specifically
about women or not?
And I kind of want to because I feel like that’s my mission. It’s sort of what I do. But I don’t want to marginalize a male audience and I think that it’s really important that there are men in the audience too because I am really trying to understand, you know, one of my questions to somebody interviewed on Friday was do men really know that much more about money? Are they — just implicitly more savvy about finances? And —
>> It’s fascinating. I think the answer is —
>> Has to be no.
>> No. But that men feel sort of pressure because society assumes that it’s part of — I’m talking about heterosexual relationships. Everything about the stock market. Investing was made for men by men. Do you know it was 1974 before a woman didn’t have to have a male cosigner on a mortgage? 1974. I was alive.
>> I think it was about that time too that women were allowed to get credit cards in their own name.
>> A woman couldn’t own a bank account in her own name until 1961. I was not alive. Not yet. I find that fascinating. Right? And so the number of women, there’s sort of three scenarios, one, just not being financially savvy because we don’t teach it in school and the number of people who have huge student loans, debt, and then something happens, living paycheck to paycheck suddenly I have a car break down or maybe not in New York City but you have a medical expense. People go to payday lending or pawnshops. Compounding interest. They don’t understand what happens. Or midlife. You get divorced you have no idea what was going on with your finances or anything. I handled some things. That was handled by my was band. And it is shocking to me that I, you know, that I let that happen.
>> High do you translate that into film?
>> Well I figure if I can make a film as Faying as implicit bias I can make it about sort of the unbanking and thinking I believe — I’m hopeful that this is going to be an easier project in terms of what
you put on the screen.
This time I want it to be a little more story based and I want to find three characters. I would really — I have got the experts and now I’m looking for three characters. I’m looking for a woman in her 80s who was widowed and suddenly has to take care of money. I’m looking for somebody midlife who get divorced or widowed and then someone young who amassed way too much debt. That’s the sort of research we’re doing now to try to find that.
>> And this is funded by Indiegogo.
>> I have to raise about a million five and I was channelled by — challenged by an executive producer who said to me I don’t think you should take corporate funding for this film.
She said I will give you X amount of money if you don’t take corporate funding. I started to do the math and I said I need to find 20 people to give 75,000 dollars. So right now I’m just filming the sizzle reel. Once I have it. I will go out and see if I can find 20 people to donate 75,000 dollars each.
>> That’s a daunting task. May I ask you, sir?
>> Yeah. So really enjoyed the documentary, thank you, I had a question about — so there’s a scene — or a series of scenes where you talk about how the policeman despite them having implicit biases they might be able to compensate. That indicates a solution that we were talking about. And I was wondering whether the role of sort of not being impulsive and being sort of aware and being able to sort of use our reason, our sort of — the prefrontal cortex area might be in playing a role in mitigating this implicit bias and perhaps if you would go into more detail if you had another feature film.
>> That’s a really interesting question and it was true in that one experiment in the counter bias training simulator they — there was no conclusion. Right? But what they did begin to see was they felt there was almost a counter bias. So on their implicit association test it showed that they had a strong or modern association to harmful objects and yet in the simulator they weren’t showing that. They were wondering whether or not that had to do the the fact that they know in society the repercussion of
making the wrong choice.
They had the luxury of doing that in the simulator. Your body reacts like you’re in realtime. It’s hard for your body and your mained to — mind to not react in realtime when you’re in there. However think about the challenge and I’m not defending police at all.
I’m just saying this is something I find fascinating. Imagine the fact that as humans, we have to learn from experience. If we had to start from one, every single time we’d never get to the third or fourth or fifth step. We have to learn from experience. Few — few — if I picked up a glass of water and threw it at you the next time I picked up water you’d react.
If that’s the case we ask police every anymore time to try to present themselves with a completely clean slate without having any influence or any training scars from any past experience. And that goes completely contrary to how humans react. So if you walk up to a car and last time you walked up to a car in that neighborhood with someone wearing a hoodie similar time of day and they pull a gun on you how do you forget that. But you cannot as a police person. You cannot go up with the assumption they will pull a gun on you either. These are the challenges they are dealt with. You would know, I don’t know if this is dangerous, it feels dangerous but I can’t be sure and you take too much time to think and look, it could be dangerous situation you could get — somebody out there the public or somebody could get but you could also react and make the wrong decision so I guess what I’m saying is it’s an enormously different thing that goes against what’s in our — the way we work as humans.
>> Yeah. Yes, sir.
>> I’d like to mimic Johnny’s praise of the movie. Thank you. I’m curious in 2019 with the renewed discourse on gender, do you think that we’ve gone past the male/female bias in is it just masculinity that is preferred and femininity that is not preferred or is it the body that is based still?
>> That’s very interesting.
>> I’m not sure I understand exactly.
>> So, for example, a female with short hair acts masculine. Are they then preferred over say a feminine woman or a man that has long hair over a man that, I guess, performs masculinity better.
>> General biases.
>> And their response to a performance.
>> Well, and I think, let’s see if I answer this to address your question. I think that that question in that particular bias has a lot to do with how old you are and who you are. So who’s holding the bias. For instance, it’s quite possible that my generation would have a reaction to anybody that violated gender norms. Gender norms for that generation. My parent’s generation, for example, you were either straight, you were either gay, and I don’t think they talked to recognize about but maybe you were bi, right? There’s three things and everybody fit into a category. I look at my kids’ generation they’re like mom, why does it matter? I don’t know. Much more fluid. Much more understanding of fluid. So if ours is like a woman needs to be in a dress with long hair and lipstick on and that’s your perception and your, you know, that’s what your understanding of a woman is, and somebody’s violating so to speak that because they’re wearing pants and short hair or something I think that that’s where any sort of judgment comes in but I think these are changing hugely.
>> So if I may, are you suggesting — I mean, when I listen to your answer, it’s an interesting answer. Is that mean that what we’re calling over here implicit bias is just a kind of enforcement of a temporary cultural norm? It sounds very valuable about police training.
>> I think biases have and do change. Right? As long as our — as — if it’s the thumbprint of our culture on our brain and our culture is used to certain norms, as that changes —
>> Then so will our beliefs and acceptances. So it’s what you’re used to. Think about it if I grew up in a neighborhood where everybody was, you know, straight and white, and somebody — in my daughter group up in a neighborhood that is, you know, mixed race and all sorts of different sexual preferences, she might have different biases form from her experience but they’d be different from mine.
>> I guess I’m struggle with the language the layering between prejudice, stereotypes, bigotry and bias. It seems to me there’s a technical ladder there or something and we’re — in this conversation looking specifically at this thing that we think we recently discovered call implicit bias so I was just trying to understand.
>> Well, yeah —
>> — the hierarchy a little bit better. Particularly in terms of that very interesting question.
>> It is a very interesting question. I’m sorry I don’t know if I’m equipped to answer it correctly but I want to address this. There’s a big difference between implicit bias and say, prejudice. Right? And it’s when you act on a bias, if I don’t — and Lori says this in the film. If I have a bias toward male mechanics, and I will only go to a male mechanic to fix my car they are two different things. If I associate male with mechanic. But if I don’t hire anyone else to fix my car then I’m taking that to a different step. Then I’m prejudice.
>> We’re getting near the end of our time here and so I will ask a concluding question. If I may take the privilege. So as journalists, as documentarians, as science writers, as medical journalists. Do you think that we as a craft, as a profession, as an endeavor are doing enough to deal with our own biases and prejudices?
>> No I don’t think anybody’s doing enough really. I mean, I think it gets — becoming increasingly more difficult especially with our current administration I think not to bring this political but think about it. There seems to be absolutely no effort to present, you know, a balanced opinion, right? So do journalists? Do I feel that journalists are doing that? I don’t know that I can speak for journalists. I hope so but it seems to be becoming more and more permissible to put your stick in the ground with little regard of what might be fair. Does that make sense? .
>> That’s a good answer and for your good answers to your questions this evening and for taking us on a really, I think enlightening journey with your film. I really thank you very much.
Robin Hauser is an award-winning filmmaker and the director and producer of the film “bias.”
Mahzarin Banaji is a psychologist at Harvard University and a pioneer in the study of implicit bias.
Robert Lee Hotz is a science writer at the Wall Street Journal and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at NYU Journalism.