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The Courts Science

The Scientific Method Versus Scientific Evidence In the Courtroom 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the pi-is-exactly-three dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A few months back, the National Research Council and the Federal Judicial Center published the Third Edition of the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, the primary guide for federal judges in the United States trying to evaluate scientific evidence. One chapter in particular, 'How Science Works,' written by David Goodstein (Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at CalTech), has raised the issue of how judges should see science in the courtroom: should they look at science to see if it matches our idealized view of the scientific method, or should they consider the realities of science, where people advocate for their own theories far more than they question them?"
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The Scientific Method Versus Scientific Evidence In the Courtroom

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:51PM (#39773575)

    realities of science, where people advocate for their own theories far more than they question them

    If you're in a courtroom, you should ALWAYS assume than anyone presenting evidence has an agenda (because they almost always do). No defense or prosecution attorney is going to put a scientist (or any other witness) on the stand who is going to do anything but advocate for their version of the case. Any judge who isn't completely new or blind already knows that well.

    • I would think a blind judge would know it better than a deaf judge.

      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:21PM (#39773993) Homepage

        Blind judges can cause problems though:

        We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. Man came in said, "All rise." We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog. And then at 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, 'cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice, and there wasn't nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn't going to look at the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.

        • Blind judges can cause problems though:

          We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. Man came in said, "All rise." We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog. And then at 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, 'cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice, and there wasn't nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn't going to look at the 27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.

          Sir, you clearly belong on the Group W bench...

        • by Jawnn (445279)
          ...and those holding 7-digit /. ID's go "What?" [smirk]
          • by gnick (1211984)

            That's hardly fair. I know enough to surrender my shoelaces so that I won't hang myself for littering. It's a Thanksgiving classic as much as 'A Wish for Wings that Work' is a Christmas classic.

            Your post makes me so mad I wanna kill... I wanna kill... I want to see dead burnt bodies with blood and gore and veins in my teeth - I wanna kill!

        • Always try for the lowest common denominator!
          "They" (Jury consultants/prosecutors) don't like..
          People with post graduate educations
          Lawyers
          Professionals
          Law enforcement officials

          "They" (prosecutors) do like..
          Welfare moms
          The elderly
          Blue collar white males

          Why? Because "They" are always looking to find the most malleable people who will find the way that the prosecutor leads them!

          • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:52PM (#39775737) Homepage Journal

            If you think geezers are malleable, I got some news for you, son. It's the young who are malleable, the old are set in our ways. Hell, my dad won't even use a cell phone or a computer. "I did without those things for eighty years and I don't need 'em now."

            And prosecutors don't like welfare moms. Prosecutors don't want ANYBODY poor in the jury, especially if it's a drug case (and most criminal cases are drug cases).

            Blue collar males? I see you've never seen the inside of a working class bar. Nearly every one smokes pot and hates the government.

        • C'mon, this is Slashdot. At least post the corrected version [hactrn.net]:

          We walked in, sat down. Ann came in with the RP06 disk pack with the 27000 pages with the comments and the -READ-.-THIS- files and a two liter coffee mug, sat down. Esther Felix comes in says "All rise", we stood up, Ann stood up with the 27000 page RP06 pack, and Dave Clark comes in with an IBM PC. He sits down, we sit down, Ann looks at the IBM PC. Then at the 27000 page RP06 pack, then at the IBM PC, then at the 27000 page RP06 pack, and began to cry, because Ann had come to the realization that it was a typical case of 36 % 8 == 4 and that there was no way to display those last four bits, and that Dave wasn't gonna look at the 27000 pages of core dumps and photo files on the RP06 pack with the comments and -READ-.-THIS- files explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.

          • by Herve5 (879674)

            Arrgh!
            I had mod points up to apparently ONE SECOND ago. I clicked on the menu and it just disappeared straight away!
            Sorry...
            H.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by willpb (1168125)

        FTFA

        Scientists, even those in the “hard” sciences that are based primarily on empirical observations and mathematical analysis, have their own dogmas, prejudices, incentives, and conventions.

        When it comes to science in the courtroom.

        Objectivity is out. Testability is out. Keeping an open mind is out. Skepticism is right out. The appeal to authority is not a logical fallacy but fundamental to science.

        All you need is an expert in the field who shares your opinion and has a plausible theory that can sway jurors or create a reasonable doubt.

        This is also why people with expertise in a field pertaining to the case are frequently excluded from a jury pool. For example they don't usually want an accountant who already knows what embezzlement is to be on the jury etc. Lawyers don't want an intelligent jury, they want one that will believe their expert witne

        • ...when you have a scientist discussing something for which there is overwhelming consensus in one of the hard sciences, agendas and prejudices may be present, but to a far lesser degree than one might find with, say, a handwriting expert who declares "Yep. That's so-and-so's handwriting."
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:02PM (#39773735) Journal

      If you're in a courtroom, you should ALWAYS assume than anyone presenting evidence has an agenda (because they almost always do).

      I don't really agree with this. It's the lawyer's jobs to try to find a scientist somewhere who will vouch for their client or could provide evidence for the client. Now, ideally the scientist is from some other place that never heard of this case or knows anything about the case other than what he/she is an expert on. The science has been done long before hand, is sound, has been peer reviewed, etc, etc. The problem that I garnered from this article is when an "expert" is presented yet they are not peer reviewed, their science is not sound, nobody in their community takes them seriously, their degree is a hundred years old or questionable, etc, etc. Or they know a lot about the case and they have stepped forward to voluntarily promote their agenda to back their science by building credibility via high media courtroom cases.

      The point is that when scientists come into a courtroom as expert witnesses (or really any expert witness), the only agenda on their mind should be to relate to the court what they have discovered in their research. Not how much more funding they'll get when this hits the papers. Not how much the defense is paying them to say that in their professional opinion the client is insane.

      This is about the validity of science presented in trials, not whether or not the defense or prosecution as an agenda. I don't think that's ever been under question or they're a terrible defense/prosecution and the client should move for a mistrial. Psychological testimony has gotten so far out of hand that some states have taken extreme measures [io9.com].

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:29PM (#39774107) Homepage

        The point is that when scientists come into a courtroom as expert witnesses (or really any expert witness), the only agenda on their mind should be to relate to the court what they have discovered in their research. Not how much more funding they'll get when this hits the papers. Not how much the defense is paying them to say that in their professional opinion the client is insane.

        While a nice idea, it doesn't seem to happen that way in practice. There are lists of professional experts whose slant on the subjects known prior to their being hired (and remember, they're hired). In many jurisdictions and in many fields, it doesn't take a whole lot of research, experience or much else to be an 'expert'. Since it works for both sides, you tend to get dueling experts and the jury is expected to make an informed decision based on the intricacies of their testimony and not on their showmanship, friendliness or appearance. Righto.

        The scientific method and the legal method don't really mesh well most times. 'Science' very rarely produces black and white results. Shades of grey are tough to get across to lay people.

        • The scientific method and the legal method don't really mesh well most times. 'Science' very rarely produces black and white results. Shades of grey are tough to get across to lay people.

          But on TV, they just push a few buttons and the security camera footage clearly shows the criminal doing the deed. And there's always irrefutable forensic evidence too, like special kinds of mold that are only found in a 3 block radius of the criminal, car tire marks that can be individually matched to a specific make and model of car, and all done with detectives that love their country and spend all their time bringing murderers, rapists, and child abductors to justice, all while tossing off one-liners th

        • I agree with eldavojohn; a good judge should never assume anything. He/She needs to hear the expert testimony on its own merits. Its the job of the prosecution and defense to refute whatever an opposing expert has to offer, not the judge.
      • Ask a physicist about what was there before the Big Bang, and you're almost certain to get a personal slant in his or her answer. Ask a medical researcher about the Germ Theory of Disease, and you can pretty much take what he or she says to the bank. The difference between the two is a little thing called a "scientific consensus". If the consensus is strong (say, 90% from the relevant field), then the likelihood of personal bias/agenda/conspiracy/whatever is driving the answer is vanishingly small (although

        • by Troed (102527)

          Ask a physicist about what was there before the Big Bang, and you're almost certain to get a personal slant in his or her answer. Ask a medical researcher about the Germ Theory of Disease, and you can pretty much take what he or she says to the bank. The difference between the two is a little thing called a "scientific consensus". If the consensus is strong (say, 90% from the relevant field), then the likelihood of personal bias/agenda/conspiracy/whatever is driving the answer is vanishingly small (although still a nonzero number).

          The psycholist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman makes mincemeat of that statement in his latest book, "Thinking, fast and slow". He calls it availability cascades, where the consensus view becomes the norm without having to be anywhere close to fact, and the scientists who do try to practice the scientific method get the silent treatment (or worse, become labelled deniers etc).

          In short, "consensus" has nothing to do with science. It has a lot to do with psychology.

          • by tbannist (230135)

            I think you're conflating different ideas together. Or perhaps you'd like to demonstrate how a scientific consensus can "become the norm without having to be anywhere close to fact". There's a myth put out by people who don't have any evidence to back them up, that "they are hiding it from you". You see it's not that the person trying to convince you that their insane theories are right is, in fact, insane. No, everyone secretly agrees with him, but everyone is too afraid of what "they" will do.

            Most oft

            • by Troed (102527)

              Didn't fakegate prove once and for all that there's no real money being paid out by Heartland?

              The rest of your post consists mostly of ad hominems and other logical fallacies, but when it comes to consensus it simply has no place in science. No scientist bases their work on consensus, they base it upon hypotheses that has withstood falsifications over time.

              http://randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1506-skeptic-history-a-tale-of-two-scientists.html [randi.org]

              http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Wegener/printall.p [nasa.gov]

              • by tbannist (230135)

                Didn't fakegate prove once and for all that there's no real money being paid out by Heartland?

                No, it proved the opposite. The Heartland Institute doesn't deny that the parts about who they're paying and how much are accurate, and most, if not all, of them have been verified.

                The rest of your post consists mostly of ad hominems

                I don't think those words means what you think they mean. I gave you a particular example that disproves your thesis that people who don't agree with the consensus are shut out. I also explained to you why some people are legitimately labelled deniers.

                consensus it simply has no place in science

                Absolutely wrong. Experiments and hypotheses are the bones of science, cons

                • by Troed (102527)

                  No, hypotheses that withstands tests over time do not rely on people _wanting_ them to be true or _believing_ in them - which are words used together with "consensus" :) It's completely irrelevant and the concept of a consensus brings nothing to the scientific table. As far as I know, it's only used by conservative scientists who want to dismiss scientific challenges (see the links I posted).

                  Regarding the Heartland Institue, their total budget and the payouts according to fakegate won't even get you a cup o

                  • by tbannist (230135)

                    No, hypotheses that withstands tests over time do not rely on people _wanting_ them to be true or _believing_ in them - which are words used together with "consensus"

                    Merriam-webster's definition of consensus: general agreement

                    If you don't have a general agreement on what is true and what is not, how do you tell what is true?

                    It's completely irrelevant and the concept of a consensus brings nothing to the scientific table.

                    The scientific consensus (what is generally accepted as true) is the feedback loop that allows science to progress.

                    As far as I know, it's only used by conservative scientists who want to dismiss scientific challenges (see the links I posted).

                    And those scientists were actually doing their proper job which was to be sceptical of new claims. When the scientists provide compelling evidence, the new theory is admitted into the consensus. The scientific consensus is the body of

                    • by Troed (102527)

                      Merriam-webster's definition of consensus: general agreement

                      If you don't have a general agreement on what is true and what is not, how do you tell what is true?

                      Something called "the Scientific Method" :) There's no need for agreement whatsoever, and it has absolutely no place in science.

                      That's specious logic. First, I'm not aware of any big university that has only a single climate science faculty. Second, when presented with evidence that the Heartland Institute (among other similar organisations) pays people to argue that global warming isn't happening, you choose to say they're probably not paying them enough so it doesn't count? It looks like you're in denial.

                      Which other organizations? How large are their budgets? Are you sure you're basing your opinion on actual facts?

                      As far as I know, no one argues global warming isn't happening. I live in the southern part of Sweden myself, where the Little Ice Age is in fresh memory still (and played an integral part in the war between Sweden and Denmark over Scania). I'm not really sure what you're

                    • by tbannist (230135)

                      Something called "the Scientific Method" :) There's no need for agreement whatsoever, and it has absolutely no place in science.

                      You don't seem to understand the difference between procedure and knowledge. The scientific method is the process, scientific consensus is the product.

                      As far as I know, no one argues global warming isn't happening.

                      Which is a strange statement to make since that's exactly what the Heartland Institute says and pays other people to say for them.

                    • by Troed (102527)

                      You don't seem to understand the difference between procedure and knowledge. The scientific method is the process, scientific consensus is the product.

                      You keep claiming that, but it's not true. Here's a hint, it won't become any more true just because you repeat it ;)

                      "If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!" --Albert Einstein

                      Orbital mechanics, plate tectonics and ulcers. The existence of a "consensus" says nothing about the actual state of science in a field. It might say something about how scientists fall prey to common psychological concepts just like everyone else though :)

                      I'll quote large parts of what Daniel Kahneman writes about in the bo

                    • by tbannist (230135)

                      You keep claiming that, but it's not true.

                      It's a shame you can't see how ridiculous your statements appear.

                      Really? Where do they (and others they pay pocket change) say that? I can't find it in any of their publications.

                      Here's one [archive.org]. You obviously didn't look very hard.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's the lawyer's jobs to try to find a scientist somewhere who will vouch for their client or could provide evidence for the client.

        I personally believe that it should not be the lawyer's but the court's jobs to find experts to testify in any case, be it civil or criminal. That's how it works over here in germany, and it meshes very well with the loser pays system, since the experts' as well as the lawyers' costs simply depend on the amount of the damages to be decided, or the type of case.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Really, it's more a matter of being shopped for than being a liar for hire. If 99 out of 100 experts would agree that the evidence supports the defendant, the prosecution will bring in the other one and vice versa.

    • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:26PM (#39774069) Homepage Journal

      If you're in a courtroom, you should ALWAYS assume than anyone presenting evidence has an agenda (because they almost always do).

      It's not so much the lawyers presenting the 'evidence' you have to worry about; it's the unqualified 'expert witnesses' who are allowed to testify, even though the only thing they're experts in is getting certified as an expert witness. [pbs.org]

      Calling our modern judiciary the "justice" system is the biggest, least funny joke in American history.

      • Calling our modern judiciary the "justice" system is the biggest, least funny joke in American history.

        That's why it's called the criminal justice system. It is indeed.

        • Calling our modern judiciary the "justice" system is the biggest, least funny joke in American history.

          That's why it's called the criminal justice system. It is indeed.

          +1 Zing!

    • by Jawnn (445279)

      If you're in a courtroom, you should ALWAYS assume than anyone presenting evidence has an agenda (because they almost always do).

      Heretic! Surely you aren't suggesting that the practice of having anyone giving testimony swear, on "The Bible", that they are telling the truth is just..., what? Theater? Don't you know that "The Bible" automatically compels anyone touching to only ever utter true answers to the questions from bench or bar?

    • by Paracelcus (151056) on Monday April 23, 2012 @04:00PM (#39775113) Journal

      "The same idiots who think tobacco is a deadly poison think cannabis is a miracle cure-all."
      Nicotine IS a poison and is used as a pesticide (among other things)!
      THC, is used for medical purposes (among other things)!

      Idiots?

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      In the UK system expert witnesses are supposed to be impartial and typically the defence does not call their own to refute any scientific evidence. That practice is changing now though as we have had many, many miscarriages of justice due to this assumption.

  • by reubenavery (1047008) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:53PM (#39773609)
    Good watch: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/real-csi/

    One thing they didn't cover, however, was the horror behind "expert" psychologists/psychiatrists and the damage they inflict.
    • by Grizzley9 (1407005) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:58PM (#39773679)

      Good watch: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/real-csi/ [pbs.org] One thing they didn't cover, however, was the horror behind "expert" psychologists/psychiatrists and the damage they inflict.

      Saw this too and it should be a req'd link in the summary. They shed a lot of light on how most of forensic evidence does not hold to the scientific method and that many so called expert court witnesses are anything but, even with the fancy sounding diploma mill accreditation.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        They shed a lot of light on how most of forensic evidence does not hold to the scientific method and that many so called expert court witnesses are anything but, even with the fancy sounding diploma mill accreditation.

        You need to keep in mind, as should judges and juries, that psychology/psychiatry are two of the least scientific of the "hard" sciences. (Social "sciences" are even less.) For god's sake, they still hook people's heads up to electric current to force them into siezures in the name of curing them, without a clue why it works. They dope people up to keep them from being too distracted from anything, and the drugs that don't outright turn your brain off have side effects that are completely opposite the inte

        • by ppanon (16583)
          Norman Doidge's The brain that changes itself [normandoidge.com] makes a pretty strong argument that there's some good neurological bases for certain psychological theories and techniques. The major problem in transferring that to a courtroom though is that diagnosis and treatment are dependent on observations that are more subjective than objective, and an un-cooperative patient (which an accused is likely to be) makes it even more unreliable.
        • by PopeRatzo (965947)

          You need to keep in mind, as should judges and juries, that psychology/psychiatry are two of the least scientific of the "hard" sciences.

          They are both more evidence-based than economics. Of all the disciplines taught as "sciences", Economics is the softest. Even sociologists don't think economists are scientists. It's like "political science" except with freshman-level math. At least they call it math.

  • by emilper (826945) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:56PM (#39773649)

    science is about method, not about theories

    • by Rostin (691447)
      What do you think the methods are based on?
      • by slew (2918)

        Considering that we wouldn't want to create science in a courtroom setting (given the restrictions on rules of evidence and other limitations), it is interesting to note the similarities and the differences.

        For example, so-called "experts" are often allowed to offer their opinions into testimony (so-called rule 702) w/o submitting their analysis for rebuttal (only the evidence), and to answer hypothetical questions. Only recently there has been a move to add a requirement that expert witness theories or te

      • Methods are based upon rigour. Theories are based upon hunches.

        "Science" is the act of rigourously testing the data leading towards a hunch, with a view of proving it true or false. It has nothing to do with the ideas themselves.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:06PM (#39773783) Homepage Journal

      (At least) two different meanings of "science" are at work here. There's science as in "what scientists do," which is indeed a collection of methods and processes; and there's science as in "the body of relevant scientific knowledge," which is what juries need to know to decide on cases. Both are valid meanings, and it's important not to confuse the two.

    • Total nonsense. As noted by the late mathematician Aleksandr Danilovich Aleksandrov, you simply can't have science without "theory". First you have an idea and then you go about performing "experiments" (sensu latu) to test these ideas. Science is merely a logical approach for gathering evidence to rule out illogical and inappropriate ideas for which there is no empirical support in favor of those which seem to best "explain the data [observations]". Science is the process whereby ideas progress from be

    • science is about method, not about theories

      I disagree. Theories are the end product of science.

      And the notion of "the scientific method" tends to be overblown. Even the most unschooled layman instinctively follows hypothesis testing when troubleshooting anything at all.

  • I'm Wondering (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:03PM (#39773753) Journal

    I find the statement "... or should they consider the realities of science, where people advocate for their own theories far more than they question them?" kind of leading and biased in its own right. To be sure researchers will advocate their theories, but that does not mean they don't question them. Someone has a chip on their shoulder.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      You usually won't see them questioning them though, since they aren't going to publish something they've already worked out is garbage. Heck a lot of advocacy is questioning in the first place - "we did experiment Y and the results were as predicted by theory X" - doing the expirement is fundamentally questioning the theory.

      And of course a lot of advocacy for "their own theory" is in fact questoning of some other theory. And that's also how science works - one person doesn't need to do all the work.

      • Nonsense.

        Scientists push their theories by providing evidence that is incompatible with alternative theories (those of their intellectual "competitors"). If one has an idea that one feels is correct, it hardly makes much sense in a scientific context to gather such evidence if it doesn't meet this basic requirement. Don't confuse the advocacy for particular beliefs by scientists as the intrinsically essential ingredient of science. Yes, it is essential in the context of creating a compelling argument wit

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          I think your using advocacy differently than me.

          Since that's basically what I said.

          By choosing what to research a scientist is advocating for something. If I'm a scientist and I choose to research String Theory then I'm advocating for it. Of course in doing exactly that I'll actually be doing things that could disprove it (well OK String Theory mightn't be the best example*).

          * I kid, I don't know enough about the field to know just how much those claiming it is unfalsiable are exagerating.

          • If you choose a topic that hardly constitutes either advocacy or science unless and until one actually does something with regard to the topic. It is the nature of the doing that is important. If the argument is sophistic, ie merely convincing without the use of the scientific method, then you might call it advocacy or whatever, depending upon one's perspective. However, it would not be science. Until one posits testable ideas and then proceeds to test them, at least in principle, it doesn't constitute

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      I find the statement "... or should they consider the realities of science, where people advocate for their own theories far more than they question them?" kind of leading and biased in its own right. To be sure researchers will advocate their theories, but that does not mean they don't question them. Someone has a chip on their shoulder.

      Well, when you're talking about someone giving scientific evidence in court, you need to consider if they're testifying in favor of something which isn't just "researchers

  • Obvious answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:07PM (#39773795) Homepage

    should they look at science to see if it matches our idealized view of the scientific method, or should they consider the realities of science

    How about both? Look to see if the real process aligns closely with ideals, then base decisions on that. Did the lab follow best practices to prevent contamination? Were the statistics compiled by someone who knew what the samples were? Do all of the numbers include error calculations?

    The discerning judge who considers scientific evidence will end up with a subjective opinion of whether the result meets the need for accuracy. It's the judge's job to apply such subjective opinions fairly, and here that means allowing only evidence that meets their realistic ideal.

    • by Amouth (879122)

      follow best practices

      I hate that term "best practices", especially when used to describe doing something correctly as it is subjective. what i consider Best may not be what you consider Best. I'd rather know that they followed "effective practices" to do the job, while the action they took might have been inefficient, there might be newer ways to do it, but as long as it is still "effective" it should be acceptable.

      Sorry it's something that irks me.. as in my field everyone wants to know and follow the "best practices", when

      • follow best practices

        I hate that term "best practices", especially when used to describe doing something correctly as it is subjective. what i consider Best may not be what you consider Best. I'd rather know that they followed "effective practices" to do the job, while the action they took might have been inefficient, there might be newer ways to do it, but as long as it is still "effective" it should be acceptable.

        "Best Practices" is not something that is 100% subjective. It is set by your peers doing similar things. If you are doing something that doesn't fall in th scope of what is provided, then you may have to write a new "Best Practice" as you forge your way through.

        Likewise, if you find a better process, you can document it and why you are deviating from it, and still be within "Best Practices" as it will then help to define a new "Best Practice" - its how they change.

        • by Amouth (879122)

          and in the case of the comment i was replying to, "Did the lab follow best practices to prevent contamination?", "Best Practice" does not fit but rather "effective practices" does. I agree there is a place for Best Practices but it isn't in processes/functions/methods/practices that can be measured black and white, there you use proven for the application process/function/methods/practices.

          • by Sarten-X (1102295)

            "Effective" is even more subjective than "best". Anybody can have their own opinion as to what's an acceptable level of "effective"... and if that means 1% of samples are contaminated rather than 0.01%, that's still a hundred-fold increase in mistakes, though the practice is 99% effective.

            In IT, I've seen far too often the results of "effective" practices that are adopted because they work without needing to take the extra steps to meet the level of best practices. I've seen businesses deleting the last set

            • by Amouth (879122)

              Sorry but none of your examples are examples of "effective practices", they are all examples of poor decisions normally made because they are "good enough" for someone.

              Effective is far less subjective than Best when it comes to ways of doing work. you can have 5 different ways of achieving a task ALL can be Effective, and two could be considered "Best" but what is Best is subjective to the people doing them, the environment they are doing them in, and the outside observer reviewing it.

              Again while an Effect

  • One-sided (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:07PM (#39773803)

    The focus on science seems ridiculously one-sided. We should also allow for some room for alternatives in the court room. Science may be at odds with some religious beliefs and it would be unreasonable to just ignore those beliefs. This becomes a problem, for example, when God scatters around skeletons to test people's faith. A scientist would fail God's test instantly, claiming someone killed the victims.

  • by earls (1367951) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:10PM (#39773843)

    Science in the courtroom?! Not on my watch. Someone fetch a Pastor to discern what God's will was in this case.

    • by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:13PM (#39773885)
      The proper way to do it is that each party places a knight on a horse, and they go at each other full tilt. God will ensure that the best man wins.

      That the way real men do it!

  • The word “science” used to mean knowledge of every kind obtained by any means. It has become narrowed in modern times to mean knowledge required by a procedure known as the “scientific method”. All people, including scientists have a worldview. No one is really objective nor has the ability to be so, because all people filter their input of knowledge and the output thereof through their worldview. Someone who considers the universe a cosmic probability experiment will interpret scien

    • Someone who considers the universe a cosmic probability experiment will interpret scientific knowledge a certain way. Someone who believes that the universe came into being by the action of a supreme mind, God, will interpret scientific results differently.

      If either of those two scientists interpret experimental results any differently than a robot programmed to perform experiments and use statistics to determine if the results are unlikely while accepting the null hypothesis, then the two are not really
      • The underlying belief system, often labeled worldview is something that everybody has including all scientists. People, including scientists will interpret all information coming into their brain through that filter. You have just demonstrated by your reply that your underlying belief system is not objective. Your mere mention of the FSM shows that your underlying belief has no room for the possibility that an intelligent mind is behind and possibly beyond the time-space universe we happen to find ourselve

  • Hidden Markov Model (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:16PM (#39773917)

    Its a Hidden Markov Model problem. There is some underlying theory with a probability of being correct based on research. But the people presenting evidence in court do so through an additional set of weighting factors that govern their testimony based upon the underlying theoretical model. The testimony is what the judge and jury are able to observe. From it, they need to deduce the underlying model and probabilities.

    Good luck expecting 12 people to understand this who have to have football (US) plays explained to them by TV announcers.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Good luck expecting 12 people to understand this who have to have football (US) plays explained to them by TV announcers.

      American football is insanely complicated. I can't even figure out how to play video game football, let alone the real thing.

      • Good luck expecting 12 people to understand this who have to have football (US) plays explained to them by TV announcers.

        American football is insanely complicated. I can't even figure out how to play video game football, let alone the real thing.

        You know what's worse? Cricket.

        I swear, the person who named stuff in this game must have been aphasic. There are so many levels of irony in a game that calls a small part of itself an "over" when it can actually take days to finish a match.

  • by realsilly (186931) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:23PM (#39774025)

    Science without religious, political, or judicial influence is simply pure science in my opinion. Once science is used in any of those three areas it is often used to bias towards an expected outcome.

    I agree science is crucial in all areas and the methods of it's use are what concern me. Science is use to help prove or debunk evidence in court rooms every day. But while it is extremely helpful in a court case, I also believe that science has killed such things as common sense, which in some instances has been know to ruin a case. Some examples where I think science destroyed a case: OJ Simpson trial, Casey Anthony trial, all the cases trying to chip away at Roe Vs. Wade, just to name a few.

    While I believe good science was used in OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony cases, I believe that too much emphasis was put on scientific evidence, thus causing doubt where there should not have been any doubt.

    In the matter of case chipping away at Roe Vs. Wade, the problem is how science is destroying the underlining message of Roe Vs. Wade, the science about a fetus is outweighing the basic human rights of the mother.

    Just my initial thoughts.

  • by drerwk (695572) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:24PM (#39774035) Homepage
    Come on ed. How bout a case sensitive automated check?
  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:31PM (#39774139) Homepage Journal
    Science is not allowed in the courtroom. Pseudo-science, such as fingerprint analysis and ballistic 'forensics,' sure, but real science won't make it past the courthouse steps in 99% of cases.

    What is allowed, in lieu of actual scientific evidence, is the testimony of "experts" who got their expert certification from an open-book, online test for the low low price of $599.99.

    Forensic science is anything but.
  • There is no way to assure anyone is objective. You might as well try to find a benevolent dictator. Peer review is a safeguard to some extent, but hardly worth much in anything that would be tried in the court.

    However, we should ask why there is a need for much science in the courtroom. For example, prescription drugs. There should be a simple process by which drugs get approved for use. Trials, disclosure of side effects... Then all a court has to deal with is if the pharmaceutical company committed f

    • Science belongs in the courtroom as much as it does in real life. In accident cases application of the laws of physics can often be sufficient to either lead to conviction or acquittal because it is reasonable to assume that they operate continuously. Same is true for scientific findings biology, chemistry, etc. Of course, this is not to say that such evidence will be used convincingly.

  • Scientifically, something is proven if it's effectively demonstrated repeatedly, with no unexpected effects from independent variables. This is a hard bar to rise to, and takes decades to do.
    Common law proof, is "demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt". That is to say, accounting for every practical possibility, is it certain that a certain person committed a certain crime.

    These are critically different, and neither standard is very cross-applicable. Applying the common law standards to science would ca

    • Scientifically, something is proven if it's effectively demonstrated repeatedly, with no unexpected effects from independent variables.

      With the following caveat - the hypothesis to be proven must be falsifiable. Continually appealing to ad hoc special pleadings, in order to preserve the central conceit of a hypothesis, is the hallmark of pseudo-science.

      The dismissal of Popper in the document is frankly, abhorrent.

      "If it becomes widely accepted (and to some extent it has) that falsifiable predictions are t

      • Well, OK, that's fair. But I think anyone getting as far as identifying the independent and dependent variables is likely to have generated a falsifiable hypothesis along the way. There is essentially no way to expect a relationship between measurable factors without an implicit falsifiability being present.

        • There is essentially no way to expect a relationship between measurable factors without an implicit falsifiability being present.

          Actually, any two variables monotonically increasing/decreasing will have a relationship - correlation does *not* necessarily give us falsifiability, although I agree, it is often assumed (such as say, CO2 emissions and global average temperature increase).

          I'd be asking for *explicit* falsifiability before admitting testimony in court as "scientific".

          • "often assumed (such as say, CO2 emissions and global average temperature increase)". This is a rather poor choice to make your argument, since we know carbon dioxide is causing global average temperature increases precisely because the relationship between the two are indistinguishable or very tightly coupled throughout earth history, even though both as represented through time are very highly non-monotonic (they can be approximated by a polynomial function of very high degree) and because the former al

            • This is a rather poor choice to make your argument, since we know carbon dioxide is causing global average temperature increases

              If you want to make the argument, you'll have to start off with a falsifiable hypothesis.

              Arguing that when CO2 leads global average temperature changes, it's a verification, and when CO2 lags global average temperature changes, it's a verification, is an anemic response to the falsification challenge. Looking at the data that contradicts the basic conceit (that CO2 drives global

      • I think I found Laudan's list:

        "Thus flat Earthers, biblical creationists, proponents of laetrile or orgone boxes, Uri Geller devotees, Bermuda Triangulators, circle squarers, Lysenkoists, charioteers of the gods, perpetuum mobile builders, Big Foot searchers, Loch Nessians, faith healers, polywater dabblers, Rosicrucians, the-world-is-about-to-enders, primal screamers, water diviners, magicians, and astrologers all turn out to be scientific on Popper's criterion - just so long as they are prepared to indica

        • by Kittenman (971447)

          That is to say, I could say "Creationism is falsifiable if you see a monkey with three tails, five wings, eating custard in a French cafe on January 12, 1892",

          Diverting from the normal car analogy there. A refreshing change, though somewhat difficult to categorize.

          • Beyond a reasonable doubt one would immediately have to say that that monkey must of had one heck of a case of Hox Gene mutations that affected his gustatory sensory neurons and to take his mind off of his troubles, he was at the cafe celebrating the birth of Joseph Jacques Caisare Joffre, who would become commander in chief of French forces during World War I.

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      Common law proof, is "demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt".

      It's worse than that. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is the standard applied in criminal proceedings. In civil cases, including multi-million-dollar lawsuits, the standard is much lower. The jury's conclusion must be supported "by a preponderance of the evidence."

      Let's just say it seems easy, under those circumstances, for 12 laymen to be misled by whichever expert produces a thicker and/or glossier report.

      (I Am Not A Lawyer but I did have the stan

  • For every expert opinion there is an equal and opposite expert opinion.

  • One of the absolute worst instances of nonsense, expert testimony came from the county coroner in the Casey Anthony case. The coroner ruled death by homicide. When questioned as to why she thought is had to be a homicide the coroner actually stated under oath that it was a homicide because the body was dumped. That is from a supposedly educated professional. No cause of death could be determined yet we have this from an expert. Could it ever just be that a child drowned as the parent was asleep and f
  • The book chapter "How Science Works" by Goodstein is available here [caltech.edu] from the author's CalTech web page.

    Goodstein is a physicist, and so am I. I read the chapter and found myself agreeing with it completely...

    BUT

    ...the examples he uses are almost all examples from physics, and a lot of his analysis isn't really applicable to science in general.

    The central issue he examines is the picture of science as an enterprise involving powerful theories that make predictions, which are then tested. This is a lot more

  • Judges only evaluate the admissibility of evidence, not it's efficacy. It's up to the jury to decide if the evidence is valid, and the process of voir dire [wikipedia.org] ensures that prospective jurors with a clue about any scientific evidence to be presented in the trial will be rejected.
  • FTFA:

    Defense lawyers think judges too easily allow in “junk science” from plaintiffs, citing the silicon breast implant litigation, which resulted in over $3 billion in settlements and compensation for autoimmune injuries that most scientists now agree weren’t caused by the implants.

    I knew about silicone implants--the introduction of alkyl chains to a silica backbone makes a nice, jiggly material--but I had no idea we made silicon breast implants. Can you search Google by twisting a nipple?

  • Judges should be forced to say in any trial that will present DNA evidence: "Ladies and Gentleman of the jury, please keep in mind a DNA match means only the DNA matched and does not prove *how* the DNA came to be there. It is far easier to collect and synthesize a suspects DNA after the fact and plant it on the evidence at the police departments' leasure than it is to fake fingerprints. A DNA match cannot and should not mean 100% absolute proof of guilt."

    Keep in mind, police departments are now startin

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