Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Justice and Science: Wrongful Convictions Blog puts expert witnesses under the microscope - and raise doubts about the ability of scientifically illiterate lawyers and judges to keep them in line. Special reference to shaken baby syndrome cases "where a doctor's testimony will be driven by his/her own personal biases about the issue, and he/she is allowed to express his/her opinion."

"POST: "Justice and science - Houston, we have a problem," by Phil Locke, published by the Wrongful Convictions Blog on January 13, 2014.

GIST: "It’s abundantly apparent that the nature of ‘evidence’ and ‘expert testimony’ has become increasingly more scientific as the decades have rolled by.  And this is a wonderful thing, because real science is a tool for discerning the real truth and the real facts.  It means that “junk science” forensics will ultimately give way to technologies and disciplines founded upon true science, and this is what the NAS Report was all about. "However, the continuing trend for evidence and testimony to become more scientifically based brings with it some “interesting” consequences of which we need to be aware — the impacts on juries and on judges & attorneys; and whether these people are prepared to cope with all this new scientific information and discipline.........Now, “expert” witnesses are just like everybody else in that they all have their own personal collections of internal biases and  beliefs.  So, while they may be testifying about what should be scientific fact, they are allowed to interpret the facts and express opinions and draw conclusions.  This can be very problematic, particularly in expert medical testimony where there may be different schools of thought within the profession about certain subjects.  We see this routinely in SBS (shaken baby syndrome) cases, where a doctor’s testimony will be driven by his/her own personal biases about the issue, and he/she is allowed to express his/her opinion.  And is it possible that an expert can be flat-out wrong?  Absolutely.  Case(s) in point would be the years of erroneous expert testimony by FBI agents about the subjects of compositional analysis of bullet lead and microscopic hair comparison.  And then there’s the decades of scientifically incorrect arson junk science expert testimony by arson investigators who did not understand, or did not accept, what science has discovered about the markers that set fires do, or do not, leave behind. Scientifically illiterate lawyers, whether prosecution or defense, are not capable of challenging the details or conclusions in the testimony of an expert.........I wish I had a solution to the problems presented by these issues, but I do not.  We’re certainly not going to be able to turn jurors and judges and lawyers into scientists.  Perhaps a part of the solution may be to invent some way of ensuring the integrity and accuracy of experts."

The entire post can be found at:


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