THE BLOG
09/07/2012 12:23 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2012

Bias and Ice Cream

I would like to tell you a story. It's a story about bias. Bias and ice-cream.

Once upon a time there was a man who owned a pharmacy that had a luncheonette counter. However, the man refused to sell ice-cream to all females because a few years back, some lady ruined his white t-shirt when she threw her ice-cream at him because she caught him checking out her rear end.

Since t-shirts are expensive and the man didn't want to get ice-cream thrown at him ever again, he refused to sell ice cream to all women.

The end.

In this example of bias -- the shop owner has applied the results of a single incident to the entire female population.

This is the worst kind of bias.

This shopkeeper should be hunted down and killed. Or, at the very least, be ostracized by decent people everywhere.

Also, he's a terrible businessman. And, he's an idiot, too, because not all women will throw ice cream when their rear end is checked out. Some will be indifferent. Some won't notice. And some will take it as a compliment. He is losing all their business.

Even more so, he is likely losing out on the business of men who take a principled stand and refuse to buy ice cream until the shopkeeper agrees to sell to everyone.

This kind of bias has rightfully been outlawed (while unfortunately, vestiges of it remain none-the-less). After all, everyone should be able to get ice cream. Which is both cold and delicious.

Here's another story that illustrates a different kind of bias.

In this story, once again, a shopkeeper owns a pharmacy with a luncheonette (where he sells ice creams to everyone. Yay!).

Once upon a time, a shopkeeper owned a luncheonette where he also sold ice cream. He keeps the ice cream he sells in a display case that is 8-feet-long and 18 inches wide. The ice-cream tubs he scoops from are just shy of 6 inches in diameter, meaning he can have 16 tubs of ice-cream lined up end to end... three rows deep... for a total of 48 tubs in total.

His ice cream display is magnificent.

Most people who come to the shop for ice cream are thrilled with the variety of flavors and frozen deserts, including sorbet, various yogurts and even a few dairy free desserts for customers opposed to animal cruelty.

However, now and again, someone comes in, looks around, gets a frown on their face and then takes a harsh tone of voice with the shopkeeper and says: "Where's the Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl? What's the matter with you? What do you have against Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl? You're biased against Gluten Free Dai--"

That's when the shopkeeper has to interrupt his wife to explain that he has nothing against her favorite flavor, but rather what he has is a real estate problem. His display case only has room for 48 flavors and that although he tries to have something everyone likes, sometimes he doesn't.

The end.

Anyway, this kind of bias is much trickier than the first kind of bias because the wife doesn't know if her husband has a motive for not stocking Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl.

Also, the element of selectivity on the shopkeeper's part regarding what flavors to stock in his display case is suspect.

If his motive is simply financial and he doesn't stock Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl because not enough people buy it to warrant the space it takes up in his case, invariably he's going to disappoint the few customers who want it.

However, what if there are some weeks where he does have Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl? Or, what if one week he gets a shipment of the Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl but it has both gluten and milk in it?

Now, some customers don't know what to do, right? Their head is going to explode.

On the one hand, sometimes they get what they want from the ice cream shop and sometimes they don't get what they want and sometimes they get something similar to what they want, but not exactly.

Plus, the proportions of time when they are happy, sad and angry aren't equal.

The shopkeeper can't win.

That being said, from his wife's perspective, her husband is biased against her favorite flavor... From the ice cream man's perspective, he makes a lot of people happy with 48 flavors... and if he could afford a larger luncheonette with a bigger display case, and if he thought it would lead to the sale of more ice cream, he might expand.

On the other hand, maybe he doesn't want to sell Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl. After-all...

1. It's got a long name. He's gonna need bigger signs. And that costs money.
2. The cost of a tub is more than regular ice cream so the profit margin is less.
3. There are some people who have a manufacturer's coupon that allows them to get Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl for half price -- meaning, the shop keeper makes no profit at all.
4. And, there are some doctors who say that eating Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl is bad for the heart. And others who say the opposite. He doesn't know who to believe.
5. Oh, and some people think Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl sucks.

Until he sorts this all out with his wife, his motives mostly, the ice cream man is going to be sleeping on the couch.

Anyway -- this is the kind of bias I think conservatives are referring to when they accuse media outlets of bias.

With that in mind, the shopkeeper, who wants to get back to sleeping in the marital bed, has some questions for his wife, who is certain her husband is biased against Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl.

Shopkeeper: Does the law require ice cream shops to carry Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl?

Wife: No.

Shopkeeper: Are their any laws that specifically curtail, prevent, make difficult, or make illegal the creation, transportation or distribution of Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl?

Wife: (reluctantly) No.

Shopkeeper: Is my failure to carry Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl preventing you from getting your favorite flavor?

Wife: Yes.

Shopkeeper: How? Surely there must be other ice cream shops, right?

Wife: There are. But the only place near us that sells Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl is a three hour drive from here.

Shopkeeper: Yes. That is a problem. You see honey, your favorite flavor of ice cream, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl just isn't popular around here.

Wife: That's bull and you know it. Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl is the best ice cream ever. That is a fact.

Shopkeeper: No it's not. It's an opinion.

Wife: No. Everyone I know -- everyone I talk to -- says the same thing: Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl is the best ice cream. It's a fact. F-a-c-t fact.

Shopkeeper: Just because you say it's a fact, doesn't mean it is. It's not possible for there to empirically be a "best" ice cream. Reasonable people differ about this.

Wife: Hold it, mister. My friend Ellen says everyone knows none of the ice cream stores within a hundred miles sell Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl.

Shopkeeper Really? None? What about that one out by the lake? You told me you got a Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl cone there last month.

Shopkeeper: No. I got a Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Chunk. There's a difference.

Shopkeeper: Oh.

Wife: Plus, Ellen read a study that said none of the other ice-cream store owners within a 100 mile radius sell Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl.

Shopkeeper: In this study, did they actually talk to all the owners of the ice cream stores?

Wife: They talked to the people in the town who know what the ice cream stores are selling.

Shopkeeper: That's not science.

Wife: Yes it is.

Anyway -- I think what conservatives have done is very intentionally confused two ideas: "not carrying Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl" with "refusing to sell Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free Almond Heirloom Organic Soy Fudge Swirl."

Shopkeeper: Hey. You! The guy typing. You could have saved us all six minutes of nonsense if you had just written this:

Bias and difference of opinion are not the same.