In the Decision Sciences arena, an area that I have done a fair amount of work, there are a number of data biases that one must adjust for to ensure that the best decision possible is made. One of these biases is an “Availability Bias” defined as:
When confronted with a decision, thinking is influenced by what is personally relevant, salient, recent or dramatic. Put another way, people respond to the probability of an outcome based on easily available data even if that data is NOT REPRESENTATIVE of the overall dataset.
In other words, if I see it, it must be true even if there are numerous counter examples that I don’t see.
Now, if you can’t stand the idea of Sarah Palin and you are, generally, a progressive, and you hear Governor Palin mention “blood libel”, your intolerance to her drives you to a default availability bias. It is an Availability Bias because any current words from the mouth (or tweet) of Governor Palin are relevant to your world view (in a negative way), are salient to you (because you hold her in contempt), are recent (by tautology), and are dramatic (because Governor Palin does often trend toward the dramatic). In short, you turn off your brain and turn on your reflexes…
However, a brief survey of the popular press shows that “blood libel” has often been used by those on the left without the complaining that we have seen aimed at Governor Palin. Just a few examples (The following were found by the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web Blog):
From a Dec. 5, 1989, Times book review: “During the yellow fever plague a form of blood libel is imposed on the blacks in Philadelphia; they are said to be both responsible for and immune to sickness because of the color of their skin.”
On Sept. 14, 1990, the late Abe Rosenthal penned a column in response to Pat Buchanan’s assertion, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, that “there are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East – the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” Rosenthal countered: “We are not dealing here with country-club anti-Semitism but with the blood libel that often grows out of it: Jews are not like us but are others, with alien loyalties for which they will sacrifice the lives of Americans.”
Andrew Sullivan in a post of Oct. 12, 2010: “[New York Republican nominee for governor Carl] Paladino speaks of “perverts who target our children and seek to destroy their lives.” This is the gay equivalent of the medieval (and Islamist) blood-libel against Jews.”
Nov. 21, 2000, Marshall quoted then-Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Florida Democrat, as complaining on CNN’s “Crossfire” of “almost a blood libel by the Republicans towards Al Gore, saying that he was trying to stop men and women in uniform that are serving this country from voting. Marshall’s response: “. . . almost a blood libel.” That’s pretty strong stuff. Strong, but not too strong. Because it’s true.”
I don’t argue here whether Governor Palin was right or wrong in the use of the phrase (although I will say that if you make specific words taboo, you give power to them that mere words should not possess). The point of the post is to expose the hypocrisy of those who continue to use the Arizona tragedy as a political tool — directly or indirectly.