How loaded a single word can be!

In a vain attempt to dismiss hundreds of studies and commentaries and thousands of ideas and recommendations, a well-known community figure in a nearby town recently said of the Mackinac Center, "They’re biased."

A moment’s thought shows that such a statement hardly constitutes a refutation and is itself probably an indication of a bias. Nonetheless, it’s an accusation that our opponents occasionally raise, and it therefore deserves some attention.

In this instance (and probably most others as well), the accuser’s remark should be translated this way: "The Mackinac Center comes to conclusions I don’t agree with."

The best way to prevent anyone from ever accusing you of bias is simply to keep quiet. Don’t take a stand on anything. Examine the evidence and pronounce that it tells us nothing. Act as if we live in the Dark Ages, where the sum of study and experience leaves us as much in the dark as ever.

An intellectual shrug of the shoulders won’t offend anyone, but it can hardly inform them either. We believe in certain core principles and have always been candid in saying so: Limited, representative government is preferable to monarchy or dictatorship. Free people are more productive than unfree people. Market economies work better than command and control ones.

Those notions were not always widely embraced in the past, but they are now approaching settled truths. For the most part, the people who dispute them are peddling self-serving agendas, or they are impervious to evidence.

Informed by core principles, the Mackinac Center endeavors to demonstrate when and how free markets and free people can solve problems. We don’t ignore evidence to the contrary, cook the books or make unsubstantiated claims. Our research and conclusions should be assessed on their merits.

The fact that they stand up to scrutiny is why opponents often dodge any serious challenge and simply toss out the "b" word. Those who claim to approach every issue with a blank slate are often uninformed of what research and experience have shown — or are less than honest about their predilections.

If "bias" means we have an informed perspective, then we’re guilty. But when I hear that charge, I immediately want to know what’s flawed about the data or our interpretation of it. Where are the errors of fact or judgment? Our studies carry a "Guarantee of Quality Scholarship" that invites critics to identify mistakes of substance. In 10 years, I can count such findings on one finger.

So if you hear someone pontificating that the Mackinac Center is biased, ask them to explain what their bias is.

We hold some truths to be self-evident, but we test their implications rigorously.

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Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.