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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Science is human

One of the things that scientists, but even more so, science fetishists, tend to resolutely forget is that science is not magic. It doesn't exist in a vacuum.
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.
No matter how flawless the scientody may be, it always has to pass through several layers of scientistry, each of which is entirely capable of transforming both the data as well as the reported conclusions. This is the primary reason that appeals to science are every bit as flawed as appeals to eyewitnesses, because it is assuming that no scientist will ever fail to be less than entirely truthful and unbiased.

Which, being human, is the one thing that we know for certain that they are not.

47 Comments:

Anonymous karsten April 19, 2015 5:39 PM  

Source:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/fbi-overstated-forensic-hair-matches-in-nearly-all-criminal-trials-for-decades/2015/04/18/39c8d8c6-e515-11e4-b510-962fcfabc310_story.html

Blogger Jew613 April 19, 2015 5:51 PM  

So when will the perjury charges against the agents be filed?

Blogger Noah B April 19, 2015 5:51 PM  

I was just reading that article, pondering the incredible stupidity of "the legal doctrine of finality." And the assumption that people know and understand the law, even when the law is so voluminous that this is impossible. In fact, most of our judicial system is so ludicrous, it's a wonder it functions with even the limited effectiveness that it does.

Blogger Noah B April 19, 2015 5:52 PM  

"So when will the perjury charges against the agents be filed?"

See? There's another absurd idea embedded into the justice system: equal treatment under the law.

Blogger Salt April 19, 2015 5:59 PM  

it's a wonder it functions with even the limited effectiveness that it does.

I don't see much limited effectiveness at all.

Anonymous physphilmusic April 19, 2015 6:02 PM  

No matter how flawless the scientody may be, it always has to pass through several layers of scientistry, each of which is entirely capable of transforming both the data as well as the reported conclusions. This is the primary reason that appeals to science are every bit as flawed as appeals to eyewitnesses, because it is assuming that no scientist will ever fail to be less than entirely truthful and unbiased.

I agree, but I also think the fact that mainstream science can be flawed doesn't mean that automatically any random person with a theory becomes as credible as those who have been professionally trained. I know you're not arguing this, but many crackpots and conspiracy theorists seem to believe this.

I've known from personal experience that the so-called peer review process is really dependent on the personal integrity of each scientist involved, and there's not really anybody or anything to hold them accountable for that. We just trust that some guy in the basement of some university lab really did this experiment and are not lying that they got this data. That being said, I still greatly value the opinions of people with PhDs, as long as they're speaking about their subfield.

Anonymous Quartermaster April 19, 2015 6:23 PM  

Do you have the link to the original article?

Blogger Jay Lucas April 19, 2015 6:35 PM  

*puts on the self-esteem boosting glasses... reads...*

So what you're saying is, we're all scientists? Whoopee! I can start wearing my labcoat outside instead of pants!

Blogger Markku April 19, 2015 6:37 PM  

Do you have the link to the original article?

See first message in thread.

Anonymous WRI April 19, 2015 6:52 PM  

The authority of science never originated from trusting any person; it was in the scientific method, the experiment which you could recreate, in front of your own eyes, and not refute. Any theory which did not account for the results of the repeatable experiment could thus not be correct. Have all but us few forgotten such things?

Anonymous Anonymous April 19, 2015 6:57 PM  

Anonymous, and totally OT;

You should put the "Rabid Puppies", on a T-shirt (with pocket).

I gave up on SFF, many years ago. I think I now know the reason why.

The logo, is great, I would buy a couple of them.
You and the ilk, kick-ass, but I think you guys are a bit out of my league.

I'll continue to read and enjoy, but I lack the chops to contribute.
SELL ME T-SHIRTS, or I will cry, and hate you.
This message will self destruct in five, four..........

Blogger Noah B April 19, 2015 7:00 PM  

"Have all but us few forgotten such things?"

Most never understood in the first place.

Anonymous HardReturn¶ April 19, 2015 7:33 PM  

If somebody thinks they're the only one in the room with enough expertise and credentials to sufficiently baffle the hoi polloi with BS--BS carefully marbled with enough tidbits and factoids so as not to smell like BS--then some of the heavily credentialed utilitarian experts will yield to that temptation. One hand on the scale and the other in the till.

Anonymous BigGaySteve April 19, 2015 7:58 PM  

Nicholas Stix covers when non Asian minorities make mistakes like this. He has covered several crime lab techs and nam doctors busted for fraud. http://www.amren.com/news/2014/01/diversity-is-strength-its-also-forensic-science-scandals/
Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also…Forensic Science Scandals
By Nicholas Stix on January 20, 2014, 2:27 am Annie DookhanAnnie Khan Dookhan
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), may be dead in the military, but it is very much alive in the world of diversity hiring. ‘We won’t ask if you are qualified, and don’t tell if you aren’t.’

Anonymous kfg April 19, 2015 7:59 PM  

" We just trust that some guy in the basement of some university lab really did this experiment and are not lying that they got this data."

That is a fundamental misapprehension of peer review, which, unfortunately, has become fairly standard even among science technicians.

True peer review does not end at the journal's jury, it begins after publication.

Anonymous BIgGaySteve April 19, 2015 8:02 PM  

SELL ME T-SHIRTS, or I will cry, and hate you.
~ Seriously man up. You could just ask Vox for permission to use the image and put it on a custom made shirt from a place like zazzle. I certainly wont ask Cankles for permission to use her image. Perhaps he would give permission for those who have bought thru Castalia House.
My caphta was Feel

Anonymous Anonymous April 19, 2015 8:05 PM  

But what of the Esquimaux. Soon there will be no ice to send them to their Valhalla (or wherever). Then, according to DR. Mann's 'Hockey Stick', the polar bears will starve ?
Have you people no compassion?

harry12

Anonymous kfg April 19, 2015 8:16 PM  

" . . . the polar bears will starve ?
Have you people no compassion?"

I refrain from clubbing baby harp seals so that the polar bears can bite their cute little heads off.

Anonymous Big Bill April 19, 2015 8:28 PM  

Forensic "evidence" is typically two common items (fingerprints, DNA, blood, carpet fibers, hair fibers) that mean nothing in and of themselves, but which are given evidentiary weight by an expert.

The expert will testify how rare (statistically) the characteristics of each item are and then declare a "match" between them. Both the weakness and the power of such evidence is the strength of the statistics and the "science" to back it up. No one looks too closely at the statistics.

As long as the "evidence" (or rather the statistics which give it power) produce convictions everyone using such evidence is happy.

And for good reason. If the "evidence" (or rather the statistics) are flawed, convictions can be overturned in hundreds or thousands of cases. Once a "test" is approved, there is very little incentive to challenge it.

Read about the "paraffin test" (gunshot residue) or the Castro Case (DNA evidence) for some chilling stories about "scientific " evidence.

Finally, you should all know that with about an hour's training you can game a polygraph test every time. Polygraph tests only work if you believe they work. Think of it this way: if I wave a monkey's paw over your head to see if you are telling the truth and you believe it works, then you will break out in a sweat, pant, and have heart palpitations. All a polygraph test does is make a record of your sweating, panting, and heart palpitations--i.e. your fear of being caught and your confidence that the test will catch you. After an hour of training anyone can pass a polygraph test.

Anonymous Durster April 19, 2015 8:29 PM  

There are T-shirts available along with other stuff. from the Rabid Puppies Link:
http://www.cafepress.com/artraccoonsstudioshop/12178468

Anonymous physphilmusic April 19, 2015 8:36 PM  

True peer review does not end at the journal's jury, it begins after publication.

Only for certain major attention-catching results. If you report something that goes against expectations, others may try to replicate it and this would indeed be your "true peer review". But for a lot of other more minor results that are mostly what everyone expected, peer review often consists of two people skimming your paper for any glaring mistakes, getting a vague idea of what you've done, and making a few comments about the color of your graphs before approving it for publication.

Blogger David April 19, 2015 8:39 PM  

There are no "outside observers."

We're all part of the matrix (not Matrix [tm]) and thus bear some degree of estrangement from actual reality.

Sanity is doing ones best to narrow the gulf. It is not a popular condition these days.

Blogger Jake April 19, 2015 8:42 PM  

Before 2000 huh? Are we to believe that they stopped in 2000, or are they just not willing to admit to misdeeds more recent than that?

I watched enough documentaries as a kid on forensic investigations to strongly suspect it was > 90% bull. To many interviews with "experts" saying things like "the scratch marks on the door matched perfectly with the screw driver found in the suspect's truck" well genius that's called standardization, and unless I can take a bucket of #2 Phillips, use one of them to punch a hole,then put it back in that bucket and see you use "science" to ID the specific tool in not gonna take your assurances very seriously.

Anonymous kfg April 19, 2015 8:46 PM  

physphilmusic: In which case those papers may be more or less interesting, but they are just papers, not science.

Which is what most of those papers were from the outset, just more grist poured into the Publish or Perish mill. Which is why they go largely ignored. Everybody is the system recognizes them for what they are.

Anonymous grey enlightenment April 19, 2015 9:16 PM  

I guess so, but science has had great success at predicting pretty much all physical phenomena . DNA analysis in matching individuals with fragments of DNA is known to be subjective, nothing new here. The margin of error in these instances is computable

Anonymous BigGaySteve April 19, 2015 9:17 PM  

"can take a bucket of #2 Phillips, use one of them to punch a hole,then put it back in that bucket and see you use "science" to ID the specific tool in not gonna take your assurances very seriously."

Well in the case of the hate hoaxer that spray painted their own property that was not smart enough to throw away the spray paint, that particular standardized color being the only spay can in the garage was telling.
http://theconservativetreehouse.com/2013/12/06/another-racist-hoax-massachusetts-mom-spray-paints-racist-slurs-on-her-own-home-to-create-appearance-of-racism-toward-her-son/
.

Blogger Nate April 19, 2015 9:18 PM  

"Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, "

CSI Wherever really doesn't seem so awesome now does it?

But this isn't news. The ballistics matching is all bullshit and that's been proven time and time again but they keep asserting its legit. Hell we've even proven fingerprints are bullshit... but good luck getting people to realize it.

Blogger Eric April 19, 2015 9:45 PM  

To many interviews with "experts" saying things like "the scratch marks on the door matched perfectly with the screw driver found in the suspect's truck" well genius that's called standardization...

I think it's a little less malign than you're making it out to be. The reason they introduce that kind of testimony is to show the prosecution's version of events isn't contradicted by the evidence. It's not that they're presenting it as incriminating - they're presenting it as not being exculpatory. That's the way you should take it as a juror, anyway.

If that kind of evidence is all they have then a not-guilty verdict is an easy call.

I find the subject of this post to be very troubling. Realistically we can't go back and retry all these cases, but hair and fiber matches are normally considered incriminating, so it's pretty safe to assume there are people in jail who would not be there without this testimony, and that some subset of them are actually innocent.

Blogger ray April 19, 2015 10:09 PM  

The guzzle down CSI and Special Victims Unit, assured that they are heroes, albeit well-paid heroes, and then full of self-righteousness they prey on the nation's sons. Usually guys that can't defend themselves.


Nobody is getting away with anything. The score's being kept. Just like the President said.


Blogger bob k. mando April 19, 2015 10:59 PM  

Tebow is back ... kinda

http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/sources-qb-tim-tebow-join-eagles/story?id=30433700

Anonymous Harsh April 19, 2015 11:10 PM  

but science has had great success at predicting pretty much all physical phenomena

(chuckles) Thanks for the laugh, dude.

Blogger Scott April 19, 2015 11:14 PM  

Re: "Hell we've even proven fingerprints are bullshit... but good luck getting people to realize it."

Yep. Fingerprint experts are a joke. Total witchcraft. The judicial system won't scrutinize it as it did DNA because it would otherwise put into question every other category of evidence currently accepted as scientifically sound.

Anonymous dh April 19, 2015 11:17 PM  

I find the subject of this post to be very troubling. Realistically we can't go back and retry all these cases, but hair and fiber matches are normally considered incriminating, so it's pretty safe to assume there are people in jail who would not be there without this testimony, and that some subset of them are actually innocent.

It's not troubling excepting that they should all be dismissed, and barred from retrial by double jeopardy. Immunity should be waived, and not a few government agencies should be made bankrupt with settlements.

I've sat on a jury before, and been cursed out and threatened by the prosecutor and the judge and the other jurors. The best thing to do is teach people that as a juror you vote to acquit for any reason or even for no reason at all. Stick to your guns, you'll sleep better at night.

Anonymous Jake April 19, 2015 11:42 PM  

This post highlights how science is the new version of religion in the negative sense imagined by of those who would tell you the medieval period was the "dark ages". VD mentioned in TIA that the state of Texas executes more people annually than the Spanish Inquisition... I wonder how many people are wrongfully executed thanks to exaggerated or untruthful "scientific" testimony in our justice system and how that compares to the dreaded Inquisition.

I expect the people most terrified of the latter would be the first to defend the former.

Blogger bob k. mando April 19, 2015 11:43 PM  

grey enlightenment April 19, 2015 9:16 PM
I guess so, but science has had great success at predicting pretty much all physical phenomena .



yeah, and the theories of Dark Energy and Dark Matter exist ... why, again?

Blogger Expendable Faceless Minion April 20, 2015 2:08 AM  

Atom bombs were a purely theoretical prediction, and they worked.
Germ theory was pretty successful.
Semiconductors only work due to quantum interactions, yet here we are, on the internet.
Cell Phones
Optical fiber

Radio and Radar.
Most of the space program. I guess you can argue about the Apollo program, but you can see the ISS with a good telescope.

If I'm going to fight Boko Haram and ISIS, I'd really prefer to use GPS and some other scientistry stuff.

Anonymous SideBurns April 20, 2015 3:44 AM  

Here is a good article from 2007 about those warlock like fbi profilers and how their profiles are pretty much b.s.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/11/12/dangerous-minds

Blogger Cee April 20, 2015 4:51 AM  

If I'm going to fight Boko Haram and ISIS, I'd really prefer to use GPS and some other scientistry stuff.
You're mixing up "useful" and "true" here.

"[x] technology works, so all the underlying scientific theory is obviously true" lead to the Ptolemaic model of the universe being obviously true, because epicycles made all the predictions come out nice.

When a thing isn't true and also obviously broke-ass, it would be really stupid to defend it because "science!!". Nevertheless...

Blogger David April 20, 2015 8:05 AM  

The existence of dogma doesn't invalidate the underlying construct. It just reminds us there's people involved.

Anonymous jla April 20, 2015 8:07 AM  

My son was recently forced to plea guilty to 'careless and imprudent' leading to an accident involving two fatalities solely on the basis of a reconstruction report prepared by a State Trooper. The day of the accident he was given a breathalyzer and cleared of any contributing factor in the accident while the other driver was cited with 'failure to yield' at a stop sign.

I met with my lawyer to discuss the possibility that a reconstruction report might be used against my son and he assured me they couldn't prove shit with those and would only come into play in the event of civil proceedings.

Three months later he was issued a ticket by the very officer who had assured him of his innocents at the scene. My lawyer still didn't seem to worry about it much until articles sympathetic to the 'victims' started appearing in the papers and he learned that the eldest son of the couple was an insurance man with expertise in 'claims management and risk litigation': then he folded like a cheap lawn chair.

We were advised to keep our mouths shut and not respond while they lied and defamed my son with both written and verbal victim impact statements with the later culminating in the eldest son threatening my son in open court without so much as a nod.

The Judge was so infuriated by the avalanche of uncontested lies that he reneged on the plea agreement and tried to make my son wear an alcohol bracelet that cost $400 a month for monitoring. We compromised with supervised probation on the condition that he wouldn't drink of be in possession of alcohol for to years on a case that had nothing to do with drinking.

Blogger Nate April 20, 2015 8:42 AM  

"yeah, and the theories of Dark Energy and Dark Matter exist ... why, again?"

because we're not nearly as good at math as we think we are?

Blogger ajw308 April 20, 2015 10:03 AM  

CSI Wherever really doesn't seem so awesome now does it?
But CSI does train people.

Years ago I had a cop as a neighbor. He had a case where a shoplifter was caught walking out the store. There was video & eye witnesses. Identity was not an issue, yet the jury was demanding DNA evidence.

MPAI.

Blogger Nicholas April 20, 2015 11:23 AM  

I was knocked for a loop, until I read:

"[A]ccording to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project."

Nicholas Stix, Uncensored

Blogger RobertT April 20, 2015 11:52 AM  

East Anglia.

The Fat Hypothesis

It's telling that googling East Anglia yields not a word about their global warming fiasco.

Blogger RobertT April 20, 2015 11:52 AM  

East Anglia.

The Fat Hypothesis

It's telling that googling East Anglia yields not a word about their global warming fiasco.

Blogger bob k. mando April 20, 2015 1:47 PM  

Nate April 20, 2015 8:42 AM
because we're not nearly as good at math as we think we are?




is that one of those deals where we designed the blueprints in SAE and then forgot to convert them to metric when we were building those galaxies?

Blogger Kilroy April 20, 2015 2:31 PM  

Science does exist in a vacuum and many tests are specifically taken in vacuum.

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