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Beware of Cultural Bias

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Lesson time 5:23 min

Cultural biases and assumptions affect how we treat one another, but they may be harder to spot than we think. Neil provides examples of conscious and unconscious cultural biases and explains how to avoid them.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication
Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson teaches you how to find objective truths and shares his tools for communicating what you discover.


[SOFT MUSIC] - Bias does not manifest equally among all the branches of the sciences. History has shown that the likelihood of bias, be it conscious or unconscious, is greater in the sciences that have humans as a subject. It's a cultural bias, not a cognitive bias. It's a cultural bias. Take a look at the social sciences, anthropology in particular, 19th-century anthropology. This is the era-- it had been going for a while, but it's the crowning era of the colonization of that which is not Europe by Europeans. It's Africa and South America and Asia. There's European influence everywhere. Built into that was an assumption, a bias that Europeans and European culture was very high, and all else was very low, right on down to the blunt assertions of we are superior to you in every way. When you have that attitude, that affects everything you do. If you think that's true, it affects laws that you pass. It affects how you treat people who are not you. It affects what opportunities you would get them relative to you. It affects how you wage war, what weapons you would use and choose to invoke. It affects all of that. These would be cultural biases. This group association thing is kind of unhealthy for a peaceful society. In the limit, it's whole countries going to war because one country feels they're better than the other, or one group enslaving another group because they think they are better in whatever metric it is they are using to decide. I see these biases, and they rear their heads visibly to me, because as a scientist, I'm trained-- I'm trained to notice them. That's my job as a scientist. It doesn't mean scientists can't be biased. We're susceptible as well. Oh, yeah. It's even in the physical sciences. We have some susceptibilities. They just don't necessarily affect people in policy. But the social sciences do. The economic sciences do. The political sciences do. So that matters. [SOFT MUSIC] A close cousin of bias is something called assumptions. Assumptions are a little more innocent than bias because assumptions are usually just out in front. You say, I have these assumptions. Now let me test my idea based on those assumptions. I assume the moon is made of some kind of a cheese. I'm going to design experiments to test for that. Turns out that's a really bad assumption. Maybe you didn't know that at the time. You can't be faulted for that. You've got to start somewhere before experiments are designed to test your ideas. But it's an example of an assumption. Before Albert Einstein and the general theory of relativity, It was an assumption that the universe was static in some way. No one had any evidence for it. It's just, why would you think the universe could be anything but just a thing always existing? Einstein shows that the universe is unstable against expansion or collapse, that we have a dynamical universe. That's freaky. That's-- oh, my gosh. So the assumption that the universe was static turned ...

About the Instructor

With a hit talk show and bestselling books, Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most popular figures in modern science. Now the influential astrophysicist teaches you how his mind works and how he connects with audiences. Learn to think like a skeptic, open your own mind through scientific literacy, distill data, and navigate bias to discover objective truths—and deliver your ideas in ways that engage, excite, and inspire.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I learned that effective communication is trickier than I previously believed...that truly knowing your audience is central to effectiveness and that preparation is key.

It helped me greatly. This particular master class gave a total perspective of the matter.

This class helped me with the ability to communicate with other in a more profound level.

Best Class so far - very informative. Great insights on effective communication



Considering what is going on in the USA today, bias in people related sciences is out front. Hope we can find peace, love, justice, and common ground.

A fellow student

Loving this course! But the assertion at the end that false assumptions are published so we don't make the same mistakes is misleading, as many times a study that doesn't "work" won't get accepted into a journal. Yet I agree that discovering what doesn't work is just as important as discovering what does work...and then duplicating that result across various scenarios, as was indicated in previous lessons (triangulation, corroboration, etc.)

Michele B.

Cultural bias makes me cry. I like science because there is a truth that can be tested. People have the ability for so much, the pursuit of knowledge brings people together by all casts. Bias is many things, a friend of the truth it is not.

Bernardo F.

It's true, sometimes we assume a truth just because we face it over and over, or because someone who is or was an authority for us told us to believe so. And it's really difficult to come out of this bias, most of us prefer to stay in our comfort zone.


It is very interesting to now about all these bias... specially conformation bias...


Cultural Bias are about someone thinking they are better than other culture. It affects the Physical Sciences also. It caused people to think other people are wrong just because of the culture or taught.

Tulio S.

Funny thing is, Einstein also bought into the "static universe" at first, even though, according to him, it contradicted his intuition. So much so, the original General Relativity Theory included something like a "cosmological constant" to account for a static Universe. It took quite a few years until a guy named Edwin Hubble discovered that the Universe is expanding - and that's why NASA appropriately named their most powerful telescope after him, almost a century thereafter. However, the true scientific attitude (and humbleness) in Einstein was to happily accept Hubble's findings and reviewing his theory to remove said constant not long after that discovery. Here's to two great men - and great scientists.


Your so-called experiment for Confirmation bias using a magazine astrology reading was particularly weak. Those publications always say basically the same thing and are indeed rubbish. However, a professional in-depth astrological analysis can be extremely individual. And OK maybe I'm showing my cognitive or even cultural bias even though I'm normally very big on analyses. But Dr. Tyson if, as you said in your opening remarks that we are part of the universe and the universe is part of us, isn't it at least possible that we might be affected by the cosmos. Sure it might not be able to meet the standard of the Scientific Experiment, but not everything in this wonderful world can. And that doesn't mean that it is not reality. It might not meet the standard of objective truth, but we can ignore these other areas at our peril. Having said all of that, I loved all 13 lessons and was "over the moon" with the last few lessons on communication and how you prepare for your talks and interviews etc. Absolutely brilliant . Thank you so much