So, a social science prof was speaking at York University and offered the assertion “All Jews should be sterilised” as an example of a vile opinion. Unfortunately, one of his students leapt to the conclusion that he was endorsing this view. Here’s what she did…

Instead of raising her hand to ask for clarification, she abruptly stormed out of class and informed an Israel advocacy group that her professor was an anti-Semite. Press releases were churned out and sent to Jewish groups and the media, calling for Johnston’s firing. The campaign instantly went viral.

Many are deriding this bewildered lass – and fairly too – but though it was extremely dumb of her to go beserk without questioning the prof she was but one person, whose volatile moods could have swayed her reasoning. What’s funny, though, is how easily this “advocacy group” accepted her claim. They would have been unprecedentedly appalling words, spelling an end to his career and the beginning of a media storm, but they didn’t even feel obliged to ask him if they said them. And then other people took them at their word, without question; even with blatantly questionable details like this

[The student] urged her fellow Jewish students to walk out of class with her — none did.

Did they ever think there could be more than one explanation for their passivity? Did they ever think to, y’know, ask somebody else before assuming it was acceptance of genocidal racism? Truth be told, this a classic and not-actually-extraordinary example of the confirmation bias. They expect professors to be anti-semitic so when they’re claimed to be so their prejudices ratify the charges before their scepticism has taken the job. I wouldn’t surprised to hear of similar reactions, in other contexts, from watchers of Islamophobia, misogyny, misandry, homophobes, anti-Americans, phobophobes et cetera.

The student is obviously the type of person who’d see themselves as a victim as they kicked a puppy’s head in. She went on to affirm the most pessimistic analyses of the confirmation bias. Psychologists have written of the ‘continued influence effect of misinformation’, which means people are in thrall to bogus claims even after they’ve been corrected numerous times. Check out these doozies

[The student] said Tuesday she may have misunderstood the context and intent of Johnston’s remarks, but that fact is insignificant.

“The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”

[The student] also expressed skepticism that Johnston was in fact Jewish.

Asked directly by a reporter whether she believes Johnston is lying, she was unclear.

“Whether he is or is not, no one will know,” she said. “. . . Maybe he thought because he is Jewish he can talk smack about other Jews.”

Or, in translation:

Okay, he didn’t. But he sort of did. He totally did.

Don’t you love the notion that her outrage was justified because “the words…came out of his mouth”, by the way. Come to that, they’ve now come out of her mouth. Serious stuff!