The well-known expression professional bias appears to date back to the very first years when professions started to exist:

  • "Professional bias" designates a mental conditioning brought about by the particularities of one's job. A contrived example is that of a race-car driver, say, who overtakes dangerously when he's out driving in the family automobile with his wife and kids.

Ngram shows that the expression was first used towards the end of the 18th century, roughly during the same years when the first professions were born.

Professional (adj.):

  • early 15c., of religious orders; 1747 of careers (especially of the skilled or learned trades from c.1793); see profession. In sports, opposed to amateur, from 1846.

  • professional (n): "one who does it for a living," 1798, from professional (adj.). (Etymonline)

Was the expression coined with the birth of the first professional activities in England or did it already exist in religious contexts where the term profession seems to come from.

  • 1
    Side note: religious (monks and nuns) profess their vows and profession is the single occasion or act of doing so.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 17, 2015 at 15:00
  • When the data behind the Ngram you offered is sorted by date, the earliest 10-20 seem to refer to the professional bias of faith. The European Magazine of 1787 seemed to offer particular insight.
    – ScotM
    Apr 19, 2015 at 1:59
  • @ScotM: that surprises me. I can't begin to imagine such an expression in the earlier religious ages I know well. That might be due to lack of the mental tools needed to detect bias: "Christians are right and pagans are wrong", went one song. This might be useful to the OP, or might not: a Francophone colleague used to talk about "déformation professionelle". (For us translators, it was nitpicking and unasked-for proofreading!) This is clearly the same thing as "professional bias", and the history of the expression might be useful.
    – David Pugh
    Apr 24, 2015 at 13:20
  • 1
    @Mitch - I don't think so, it is more like an attitude, a way of being where professional aspects of your life tent to intrude into you personal and social life but without a pathological connotation.
    – user66974
    Apr 24, 2015 at 13:28
  • 1
    @EllieKesselman well, rather, just not a good example (different places have different habits (in California up to 15 minutes late is OK, in Wisconsin up to 15 minutes early is OK). And a job interview is different from a party. My point is that I would find it hard to call pathological any behavior learned from a job and applied outside.
    – Mitch
    Apr 25, 2015 at 17:52

3 Answers 3


A Google Books search for "professional bias" for the period 1700–1800 yields four legitimate matches—all of them connected to religion. From Richard Watson, An Apology for Christianity in a series of Letters, Addressed to Edward Gibbon, Esq (1777):

I beg pardon for styling their [the Deists'] reasoning, prejudice ; I have no design to give offence by that word ; they may, with equal right, throw the same imputation upon mine ; and I think it just as illiberal in Divines, to attribute the scepticism of every Deist to wilful infidelity; as it is in the Deist, to refer the faith of every Divine to professional bias.

Bishop Watson's response to Gibbon is cited in Letter 44 of Richard Sullivan, A View of Nature, in Letters to a Traveller Among the Alps (1794):

A latent, and even involuntary scepticism, certainly adheres to some characters. And therefore, it is illiberal in the advocates of religion, to attribute the scepticism of every Deist to perverse infidelity ; as it is in the Deists, to refer the faith of every Christian to professional bias.* This particular bent we can neither comprehend, nor estimate.

*Bishop Watson.

As Hot Licks notes in a comment below, this is by no means an independent occurrence of "professional bias," but rather a restatement of the previous instance, with Christian substituted for Divine.

From a letter to the Philological Society of London by N. N. on March 7, 1787, in The European Magazine (March 1787):

We have a hint also of "the number and ability of unbelievers." I will not class the Reviewer with those Free-thinkers, as they call themselves, who are mere slaves to the opinion of others ; though I suspect him to have very little knowledge of the facts or answers in defence of Christianity. With those, however, who disbelieve, not from any reason they themselves can give, but because some acquaintance of theirs, of whom they have a good opinion, or some celebrated writer, as Voltaire, Hume, disbelieved, we may argue in their own way, and confront them with names and authority, I trust, superior to any they can produce. ... To say nothing therefore of the bulk of the community, high and low, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, which or so many ages have believed in the Gospel, let us only urge the names of Mede, Cudworth, Barrow, Clarke, Jortin, ; of Leland, Taylor, Lardner ; of Le Clerc, Limborch, Mosheim ; men who spent whole lives in the study of Christianity, and manifested as much freedom and acuteness in their researches, as are to be found in any science whatever. Let us add the authority of Bacon, Grotius, Locke, Newton, Hartley, men who were under no professional bias, and did not take their religion upon trust, but each of them spent many years in inquiries into it, and rose up from the inquiry fully and firmly persuaded of its truth.

And from The Parliamentary Register (April 28, 1795):

The Bishop of ROCHESTER disclaimed having any professional bias : he said, in all great bodies of men there were some undeserving objects, but it would be unjust to punish the worthy on their account.

As two of the four eighteenth-century instances of "professional bias" in the Google Books search results are from bishops, a third quotes one of the first two, and the fourth distinguishes between "men who spent whole lives in the study of Christianity" and men who merely "spent many years in inquiries into it" (arguing that the latter did not have a professional bias), it seems clear that prior to the 1800s the term was understood to refer to religious profession.

The earliest nonreligious (or religion-neutral) instance of "professional bias" in a Google Books search appears in a review of John Fuller, M.D., The History of Berwick upon Tweed, in The Monthly Review (October 1800):

This design [to improve "the present state of agriculture and commerce of his native town" and to propose "the real happiness of the inhabitants"] is no doubt truly benevolent and patriotic : but surely it was not necessary, in order to impress on the reader's mind the importance and utility of agriculture, to give an account of man in a savage state ; nor to present us with various other observations which here occur, and which seem to originate in the professional bias of the author's ideas.

Since the author is a medical doctor and not a divine, I assume that his professional bias is in the direction of modern medicine. The review doesn't mention religion at all.

This rather limited record supports the idea that "professional bias" began as a term connected to the profession (that is to say, the professing) of Christianity and used by various religious and nonreligious writers, and that from there it expanded to include professional occupations or livelihoods within which a particular viewpoint or presumption or interpretive inclination predominates.

  • But it should be noted that "profession", in a religious context, means something rather different from the "civilian" meaning. Thus it's not at all unlikely that the non-religious sense of the term arose spontaneously, vs being derived from the religious term.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 26, 2015 at 1:49
  • @HotLicks - the bias actually refers to a mental conditioning and attitude which derives from your main working activity, whatever it may be. Though professing your religion may not be considered a profession in a civilian sense, I think the bias may well be similar to that used referring to modern professions.
    – user66974
    Apr 26, 2015 at 21:03
  • @Josh61 - I think one could very easily interpret "professional bias" in the above quotations (except perhaps the last) as meaning the explicit doctrine that came with a "profession of faith", not unconscious "mental conditioning".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 26, 2015 at 23:39
  • Sven, note that those first two quotes are virtually identical. The second is clearly copied from the first, and so it's not an "independent" data point.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 26, 2015 at 23:42

A simple direct answer to the question of whether the expression 'professional bias' was coined with the birth of the first professional activities in England or whether it already existed in religious contexts where the term profession seems to come from (yes to the former proposition, no to the latter) can be offered by constrasting the 16th Century word origin for 'bias' with the earlier (12th Century) origin of 'profession'.

This then poses a more interesting line of enquiry as to whether the combination existed in a different form, for which the phrase 'professional bias' became a neologism.

  • 1
    I am sure what your point is, bias in a figurative sense is from 1620, so the expression could have been used within religious contexts, with a different connotation of course.
    – user66974
    Apr 30, 2015 at 21:08
  • @Josh61 - my point was that a word would not have been used before it was coined. May 1, 2015 at 13:42

A "Professional Bias" can imply/mean two things.

1 - A professional bias is when a skill that you have spent years growing is then unfairly compared to someones skill that is at its starting stage. Example - Professional engineer builds machine, beginner has trouble building table and is looked down upon.

2 - A professional bias is when you think every other profession is worse in some way. Example - Professional engineer says farmers are nothing compared to what they do.

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