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 The Courts are sorely lacking in science literacy
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beskeptigal
SFN Die Hard

USA
3834 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2006 :  01:13:48  Show Profile Send beskeptigal a Private Message
Science wrong on arson evidence for years.
quote:
Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly rejected the argument that the prosecution's case was built on bad science.

A definitive count isn't possible, but the best estimate of leading fire investigators across the country is that there could be hundreds of mistaken arson prosecutions, all built on the same ideas that were uprooted more than a decade ago.

The new arson science could become the most powerful tool to reveal wrongful convictions since DNA testing began overturning rape and murder cases in 1989. So far, 186 men and one woman have been freed because of the new technology.

This isn't just about correcting the historical record. Not only are people behind bars because of faulty arson investigative techniques, others may be on their way. Critics say that some investigators, in rural counties and big cities, resist the new science and prosecute cases based on discredited methods.

An appeal last spring sought a new trial, arguing that scientific advances in arson investigation essentially created new evidence.

Christine, Monroe County's district attorney, did not return repeated phone calls. An assistant argued before the court that the new science was, in effect, simply "two expert witnesses that have opposing views." A Pennsylvania state court agreed and rejected Lee's claim.

Another is the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas after courts there refused to consider his claims of innocence. A panel of experts hired by The Innocence Project, known for its work using DNA to expose wrongful convictions, concluded that the fire that killed Willingham's children was accidental.

It's a nightmare, where a defendant's truthful account is held up as lies because the court's accepted expert is scientifically wrong, says Barry Scheck, an attorney and co-founder of The Innocence Project. "We need a systemic re-examination, an audit, of these old arson cases," he says.

While skeptics are worried about school science classes, maybe we ought to worry as much about the lack of science recognition in the "jury of one's peers" system.

20-20 tonight profiled a case where a supposed rape murder suspect's semen didn't match the victim but the jury was convinced by witness testimony instead. I couldn't believe these idiots convicting a man of murder because they believed his ex-wife (of all people) was telling the truth. The jurors interviewed said they could tell the ex-wife was truthful. The same jurors ignored the fact the semen from the victim was sterile and the suspect was not. I realize 20-20 probably distorted the version of the trial but still, gut feeling vs clinical evidence?

It seems so many people are just idiots. They're everywhere. They convict innocent people or let the OJs go because richly paid lawyers are better at persuasion than schools are at educating people about science.

I think I'll write this same post to the Scientists and Engineers for America group and see if they have any interest in weighing in.



Edited by - beskeptigal on 12/12/2006 21:11:59

JohnOAS
SFN Regular

Australia
800 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2006 :  18:21:01   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit JohnOAS's Homepage Send JohnOAS a Private Message
From "A Devil's Chaplain", by Richard Dawkins.
quote:
Trial by jury must be one the most conspicuously bad good ideas anyone ever had.


I have to agree. The idea of a dozen randomly selected individuals determining my innocence or guilt should the need ever arise, is scary to say the least.

After just typing that in from my own copy of the book, I just googled and found an on line version. I strongly recommend the book anyway. It's a collection of short articles and essays on a variety of topics. ( Summary/review or Amazon link )

* Edited to add: I just noticed that this is SFN's "Book Of The Week", well, it was as at the 121st SFN Summary.


John's just this guy, you know.
Edited by - JohnOAS on 12/10/2006 22:58:41
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Neurosis
SFN Regular

USA
675 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2006 :  19:50:40   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Neurosis an AOL message Send Neurosis a Private Message
I think we need science literacy in the classroom, in the courtroom, at the polls, in the political offices, and in the supermarket. Basically, I think that teaching people to think is one of the biggest challenges facing the future of this planet in all areas, and we are sadly failing more than succeeding. Rationalist Party 2008.

*paid for by the friends and people who support the Rationalist Party.

Facts! Pssh, you can prove anything even remotely true with facts.
- Homer Simpson

[God] is an infinite nothing from nowhere with less power over our universe than the secretary of agriculture.
- Prof. Frink

Lisa: Yes, but wouldn't you rather know the truth than to delude yourself for happiness?
Marge: Well... um.... [goes outside to jump on tampoline with Homer.]
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2006 :  20:32:21   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message
There have been a few articles this past year about how if the prosecutors don't have CSI-style slam-dunk evidence to present at trial, many jurors tend to lose respect for the case. They don't even want to hear experts testify that there mostly is no such evidence to present, since it badly conflicts with what they see on TV every week.

(The Rationalist Party is a bunch of stuffed shirts. Besides, Kil has already agreed to run for President in 2008 on the Critical Thought Party's platform, so nyaah, nyaah.)

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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Neurosis
SFN Regular

USA
675 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2006 :  21:57:32   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Neurosis an AOL message Send Neurosis a Private Message
I should totally look up things before I post. I actually did not realize that there was actually a Rationalist Party. The Critical Thought Party sounds like a great idea.

Facts! Pssh, you can prove anything even remotely true with facts.
- Homer Simpson

[God] is an infinite nothing from nowhere with less power over our universe than the secretary of agriculture.
- Prof. Frink

Lisa: Yes, but wouldn't you rather know the truth than to delude yourself for happiness?
Marge: Well... um.... [goes outside to jump on tampoline with Homer.]
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2006 :  22:32:18   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message
Actually, I was just joking, also, but there do appear to be several "Rationalist" parties, even one with the slogan "Long Live Ayn Rand!"

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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beskeptigal
SFN Die Hard

USA
3834 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2006 :  21:16:45   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send beskeptigal a Private Message
What I was looking at here, (the rest of what you all are saying is still important), is the issue of official recognition there is good and bad science. The courts put science into the same slot they already had put everything else. Present both sides and let the jury decide which is correct. But the jury is rarely qualified to determine good and bad science. In fact, lawyers often go out of their way to select juries who don't have a clue about the science of a case.

Should people be convicted of arson based on some expert testifying there was evidence of arson when that testimony is now known to be wrong? There have been cases where hair was claimed to be a match when at the time only hair type could be determined to match. I think the courts should put this kind of testimony in a parallel slot with perjury. It isn't lie but it has the effect of a lie. If the science is found to be flawed, regardless of the reason, it shouldn't be allowed and if it was that should be grounds for appeal.


Edited by - beskeptigal on 12/12/2006 21:18:47
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2006 :  21:53:30   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message
I, for one, am unwilling to allow the courts to declare what is good or bad science for the very same reason that you want them to, b'gal: for a precedent to be set on what is or isn't "good science," both sides would have to be presented and a judicial ruling made. What if that single ruling was wrong due to the "bad science" side simply being more persuasive? Much better to go after repeated rulings from multiple judges to create precedents that will be worthwhile.

And you certainly don't want a legislative or executive decision mandating what the courts should accept as "good science," since those bodies aren't bound by any sense of "fairness," even though it's the bend-over-backwards fairness of that courts that you're complaining about.

If testimony is known to be wrong, then the opposing side has a duty to put forth rebuttal testimony. And a failure to properly rebut testimony is grounds for appeal, so far as I know, on the grounds that one's lawyer was incompetent. But the new lawyer would have to show the appeals court that there's a reasonable expectation that the verdict would be overturned (by presented evidence that the verdict was grounded on bad science) or the appeals court won't even hear the case. The only time of which I'm aware at which appeals are automatic is when a death sentence has been handed down from a jury. All other times, it's up to the lawyer for the losing side to come up with a convincing argument that the case might have gone some other way had it not been for this or that mistake or bias.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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beskeptigal
SFN Die Hard

USA
3834 Posts

Posted - 12/13/2006 :  04:42:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send beskeptigal a Private Message
In the case I cited, Dave, the science advanced. What was accepted as the evidence for arson changed as more evidence was evaluated. But the court did not recognize scientific advances as a reason for appeal. In other words, it wasn't so much in this case who was judging the science as it was the court didn't care the science at the time was no longer valid.

The courts took a long time after DNA testing was available to allow that as a reason for appeal. After a decade or more of innocent people remaining in jail, the courts are finally starting to move faster and expect/require those bio samples from the evidence rooms to be tested. If you follow any of the work by the Innocence Project, you see how frustrating it is when the DNA could clear innocent people but the appeals courts only look at narrow definitions of what constitutes new evidence. New science doesn't carry the weight it should carry.

I'm not suggesting the Judge Moores of our system should be determining what is good science. I'm suggesting we need some legislation which better defines how the courts should deal with bad science. The idea you can buy a more persuasive expert doesn't need to be added to the fact you can buy a better lawyer. Experts willing to say anything for money need to be better scrutinized by the same standards you would judge perjury. And scientific advances, if significant enough should certainly matter. When the body of evidence results in a major shift in scientific opinion, it certainly ought to be considered on the level of new evidence.



Edited by - beskeptigal on 12/13/2006 04:46:49
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Original_Intent
SFN Regular

USA
609 Posts

Posted - 12/16/2006 :  07:28:18   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Original_Intent a Private Message
Not to hijack the thread, or throw it OT (as all the court issues are one huge problem)...... I would be much happier if they sidestepped the sciene issue until they take care of the problems with prosecuters and DA's trying to make a name over the facts of the case.

There is an ancient law, and I do not remember the origins, but it went along the lines of:
In a case before judges, if the accusser knowingly misleads and falsely accuses, then the punishment that would have gone to the defendent goes to the acusser.

I really am in love with some of those old laws.

Peace
Joe
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