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Impartial Scientists In The Court Systems 159

Posted by Hemos
from the good-idea dept.
jimmyUCB writes: "It looks like the American justice system may not be utterly doomed after all. This article from Science Daily says that the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is paying scientists and engineers to be impartial tech tutors to judges so they don't have to listen to biased experts that are paid by defendants/plaintiffs. "
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Impartial Scientists In The Court Systems

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  • Science is not the absolute truth some people think it is. If you ask a scientist what the truth about a subject is, you get his or her opinion. Good scientists acknowlegde this. The bad ones are even unawere of the fact that they are giving their own opinion.
  • I think we need to ensure that people serving in the jury have a minimum of education to ensure that they can weight the evidence in a rational manner. This would ensure that the facts are the most important part of the case, rather than the words of a fancy lawyer. In the end, this can only led more a more just court system.

    No, people in the jury should be representative of the society in which we live in, so that they make decisions on what is acceptable to them, a section of society, not what is acceptable to one's person's beliefs and opinions due to their education, ie: the judge, or some stuck up bigoted twat who "has been to university".

  • Just because a person is "impartial" meaning not associated with one side, that doesn't mean they won't have some inherent bias.


    everyone is biased
  • It seems to me that these "experts" hired by the plaintiff or defendant are paid based on the expectation that they will argue in favor of their employer, not on the expectation that they will be fair. These experts are also commonly known as "expert witnesses." They are not necessarily biased at all; the closest comparison I can think of is that these experts are taking on a role in a play or scene, and telling their story based on how their character feels about the situation.

    There are most certainly biased expert witnesses, but then again, are not normal witnesses biased?

    When you all criticize them for being biased, consider this. The court system was designed so that they would argue in favor of their employer, not so much so that they would argue completely objectively. The reason, though, that expert witnesses appear biased so often is this. When you swear to tell the truth before you take the stand, you are swearing to tell the truth as you believe it to be; you are not swearing to tell facts. So often expert witnesses are not nearly as knowledgeable as they pretend to be, and therefore make statements that are technically incorrect but are in their opinions the truth. This is what allows people to say that hackers are people who break in to websites; it is the truth as those people know it, even if it is pure fiction.

    If you were to hire a better, more knowledgeable expert witness than the people opposing you, you have a better chance of coming off triumphant. If both expert witnesses suck, but your expert witness sucks more, it will make the other "team's" witness appear biased, greedy, and stupid.

    Sorry if this reading is too dense.

    Aciel
    aciel@speakeasy.net
  • I suppose I was getting a little loose with the lingo. But in fact the paper you linked doesn't really alter my case. The Chinese, in that article linked to CNN, mearly claim that their 'animal' (can't we all just get along?) isn't the at the base of the branch where birds seperated from dinosaurs. They are however strongly related. The only things we can see evolution in action in during our brief lives are organisms that multiply rapidly. We of course DO see this in bacteria and viruses. We all need a new flu shot each year it mutates so fast. As far as evolution in action, ornotholigists have that one licked. There was a husband and wife team which literally spent their lives following the alteration of a species of seed eating bird in the galapigose islands. Turns out they started evolving bigger stronger beaks because a drought forced them to eat larger seeds due to the reduced food supply. If I'm not mistaken they ended up naming the result a new species. (I watch a lot of TLC PBS and what not). What do you consider macro-scale evidence in the eventual question. Sharks to manta-rays? Plant species? What about different species of bears? It's pretty clear Kodiak bears are grizzlies that evolved tremendous size in isolation. Humming birds and their beaks? Read your own evidence.
    "Birds are sisters of dinosaurs rather than direct descendants of them," Hou said. "In Jurassic period," Hou said, "the ancient bird evolved into various groups."
    Your claim is that birds and dinosaurs are not related in the least, and your evidence says that they are sisters. Furthermore, it is very likely, that in the context of the article, the term dinosaurs is being used to refer only to the species Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis and not to dinosaurs as a whole. Birds and dinosaurs share many skeletal features in common, and in fact what seperates these animals from accutally being direct progenitors of modern birs is a subtle skeletal feature in the skulls. In the case of Archaeopteryx so subtle that no concensus was reached as to whether the animal even expressed the feature at all. The article even goes on to present the conclusion that birds diverged from, and share a common anscestor with, dinosaurs more than 140 million years ago. Is it 30 - 15?

    But we don't have to worry about troll bait here. They're all in the rec.slashdot.god.is-dead thread. For the record, while I don't believe in God, I don't chide those who do. Taking scripture as literal truth however....course if a burning bush started talking to me I'd get on board real quick.

  • Right!

    So many of them have said to me, "An armed society is a polite society." Then they fail to be polite. If an armed society is a polite society because impolite people are shot and killed, you think they'd be crusading for gun control as a pragmatic survival issue.

  • What does the zygote have that the two gametes did not have a moment before?
    Human life. A soul. The right to live. Take your pick.... It is not legal to murder someone...
    As I keep trying to tell you, you're assuming your conclusion. What is a soul, and how do you know (without reference to religion) that a zygote has one while the gametes do not? Who has a right to live in someone else's body? Why should birth be a right to be demanded by force of law, instead of a gift freely given? Murder is a strong word, but it also has a strict definition. Since murder is "the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought", I wonder if you could give the legal names of some of these murder victims; with your claim of millions of victims I'm sure you could identify at least a few dozen. Et cetera.

    Metabolism does not a human being make; neither does the oft-cited beating heart. A body stops being a human being under the law when it's brain-dead. A zygote has no brain, nor even any neurons. It can't think, feel, or even sense other than by reacting to chemicals at the cellular level. When you try to claim the label of "human being" for something so insignificant, you demean humanity.

    Simply because a large proportion of zygotes die before birth has no bearing on my contention that life begins before such birth, indeed at conception.
    It's simple. We're constructed to throw away most zygotes. I have not heard of a single holy book which says that menstrual periods should be mourned. Obviously God doesn't give a damn about zygotes, so why should we? Why are you venerating the worthless? More to the point, why are you insisting that people who do not share your religious convictions nevertheless follow your rules of conduct? That violates their right to freedom of religion.
    What do you consider a human being? Just when, exactly, does a person become a person? I suggest that any answer besides "conception" bears serious problems.
    It becomes a person when it is an independent entity which can think and feel. It stops being a person when it can no longer think and feel (ie. no longer has a functioning brain). What's the problem with that?
    This is a cop-out. People tell other people how to deal with such important issues all the time and many such things are legislated.
    Estimates were that illegal abortion into the late 60's was about 1.5 million per year. In 1973, Roe vs. Wade threw out most state laws banning abortion. Abortions are now about what, 1.2 million a year? Safety is way up, judging from the 7000 reported deaths (and how many unreported ones?) from illegal abortion from 1946-1972 compared to under 400 from legal abortion between 1973 and 1999 (see this page [about.com]). Looks like legislation failed pretty miserably.

    The "pro-life" movement is all about demanding public adherence to one particular ideal of piousness. If that's what you want, you can always go someplace where it's the law of the land; I suggest Afghanistan, or if you don't have the stomach for such required conformity you might try Iran.
    --
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard

  • well that's a load of bull...it reduces to 'may the best lawyer win', and that is most certainly not the premise on which the USAs judiciary was founded (though it may be the sad reality).
  • Except that jurors are selected by the defense and procecuting lawyers. This process is designed to create a jury that is as impartial as possible. People educated in a subject related to the case will most likely pose a threat to one side or the other and would not (and should not) be selected. The jury needs to concentrate on making a decision based on the facts presented in the case. They should not (and usually cannot) worry about deciding which facts are true. This seems to be a great solution to what has been a problem for a long time.
  • I don't remember the amendment that states that I have "the right to not be killed"...could you give me that passage again?

    The Constitution simply outlines the powers and limitations of the federal goverment. The "right to not be killed" would only appear in the Constitution in the context of "the federal government is not allowed to kill people", or "murder is a federal crime, and shall be handled by the federal judicial system".

    Of course, then the issue occurs, is abortion murder? Well, since there seems to be so much grey area involved (I think the great majority of people would agree with that statement), the only fair thing to do is to let the individual woman decide.

    BTW, if you were truly motivated by the Constitution, then you'd have to say that the Federal Gov't has no say in the matter, and it's then up to the State and local gov't's to act if they wish. If they don't act, then the powers are reserved to the people.

  • It isn't that the scientists aren't biased at all, it's just that they aren't baised toward the either side specifically. They might feel that one technology/method is better, and explain that more, but s/he won't specifically say that the alternative is completely wrong, as most 'expert' witnesses do for their client. It's just so that the judge can understand w/o having to rely completely on the witnesses from each side to explain it. At least, that's what I get from it.
  • Or perhaps we should have "let the people decide"--of course, we did that once; it was called "election night" and it didn't work the first time around."

    Actually, the decision was Al Gore by a decent margin. It's just the damn electoral college that gets in the way.

  • at least a judge is trained in the field and *usually* doesn't have a strong bias one way or another" Ever seen Judge Judy? I hate that woman. Every time she comes on TV I want to reach through the screen and strangle her till her eyes pop out.
  • Frankly, sir, you are wrong. I am not misrepresenting the more-like-30% of the population that is anti-choice. They represent themselves quite clearly, I need do nothing to represent them in any way.

    Both of these statements: You will find the great majority of people interested in ending abortion motivated by the constitution, to which the right to not be killed is fundamental.

    You will find the great majority of people interested in maintaining the rights to abortion motivated by the desire for a woman to be able to live her life as she desires.

    I partially agree with. Both groups are mostly motivated by their own moral decisions more than legal obligation to the Constitution, IMHO.

    But you missed the whole point of my post and replied with a complete sideline. The point of my post was that the Supreme Court protects the enligtened minority from the tyranny of the majority. My example issue was abortion. Obviously, I have an opinion on the issue, and most educated, intelligent people I meet agree with me. And if you listen to the raving luncatic morons who make up a large contingent of Congress, you would rapidly understand my concern that these idiots, elected by people in places like South Carolina, are supposed to protect our interests.

    If you are really interested in being ruled by tyranny of the majority, then you must not have had to deal with too many stupid people in your life. The average human is a scary, scary thing to behold.

  • Article 2 of the constitution specifically grants the power to conduct elections to the states.

    I understand your point. You are correct that the purpose of the judicial system is to arbitrate in these manners. But the laws of our country clearly dictated who this should be, one party didn't like the law and used what power they had available to subvert it.

    The SCOTUS injected themselves into the process, not because of any legal argument, but because they wanted to make sure their candidate won the election. Only after the fact did they try to construct a legal argument to justify their decision. It was not at all odd then that their justifications it ran contrary to every legal argument they had ever made in the past.

    In the dictionary you might want to look up the word Corruption... For that is what took place.

  • Of course you are right, Microsoft ha just recently stated that they need to educate the powers that be. Why not start in the courtroom....

    Here's the link......here. [slashdot.org]

  • Judges should just log on and go to Bill Nye [kcts.org] or How Things Work [howthingswork.com] and they could get 95% of their questions answered.

    Ruger
    Gruesome Stuff [sfdt.com]
  • The judicial system protects those of us interested in liberty from those of us who aren't who seem to often make their way into the legislative and executive branches. A woman's Right to Choose would not exist if the Supreme Court weren't there to protect it. Why? There are lots of stupid, vocal Southern social conservatives in Congress. These people, who are as far from Libertarian as you can imagine, want things like creationism taught in schools and they want to return women to the kitchen and the bedroom.

    I consider myself a Libertarian too, and I agree that the system by which Justices are appointed to the Supreme Court to be highly distasteful, but given how little I respect the ability of the masses to elect a president and Congress who will represent their own freedom and the common interest, i.e. how anti-Libertarian most of this country seems to be, I am glad that we at least have some rational, well-educated, highly intelligent people up there who debate and consider from a moral and legal viewpoint (they are not bound by strict precedent as the highest court in the land, although they are usually bound by Congressional directive). In other words, without these guys, we'd be even more fucked.

  • "...is paying scientists and engineers to be impartial tech tutors to judges so they don't have to listen to biased experts that ae paid by defendants/plaintiffs." Who says scientists and engineers(paid or unpaid) can't be bribed?
  • How many times have we seen PAID "experts" give their B.S. opinions to line their own pocket books. The whole OJ Simpson Trial. Anything that you want an expert to say, they will say for the right amount of money. Wouldn't you? I mean after all, it's not like the judge can call you on it. He's not the expert, we are. This idea would bring justice to an all new level at the same time putting a stop to those who take advantage of capitalism for their own desires. Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
  • It seems like this would be a pretty hard sell in the court system. Regardless of the scientist's impartiality, lawyers would always want 'their guy' on the stand. Where I think this group could be really useful is in the patent system. With the explosion of net technology and associated (controversial) patents, a consultation with an impartial scientist that actually KNOWS something about the relevant technology would be a huge asset. Just a thought...
  • No, people in the jury should be representative of the society in which we live in, so that they make decisions on what is acceptable to them, a section of society, not what is acceptable to one's person's beliefs and opinions due to their education, ie: the judge, or some stuck up bigoted twat who "has been to university".

    *sigh* Juries are never going to be representative of society as a whole because a) there aren't enough of them to be a statistically valid sample and b) they're comprised of people too stupid to avoid jury detail. So if anything the average intelligence of a jury is somewhat lower than the mean.

    Besides, most people are used to being manipulated by charismatic talkers. After a lifetime of watching such classy television experiances as "When Good Pets Go Bad", "Married With Children" and, God forbid, "Will and Grace" they aren't used to things like rational thinking or logical analysis.

    On the other hand, people in more cognitive fields are used to analysing a situation rationally and logically. Just look at the cut and thrust of debate here on /. It's very similar to how a courtroom should be, and by having people in the jury who can cut through bullshit and misdirection we can make sure justice is done correctly.

  • by Stephen Samuel (106962) <samuel@bc g r e e n . c om> on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @09:35AM (#414466) Homepage Journal
    It would seem that the mistake this judge mad was that he went to his friends in the background, rather than assigning them publicly, where both sides would have the ability to cross-examine them.

    Under cross-examination, the lawyers might ask questions that the judge hadn't thought of. It wouldn't invalidate the questions of the judge, but it would simply offer both sides the opportunity to put their own questions to the court appointed expert.

    As was mentioned in the release -- Judges (federal judges, at least) have had the right to appoint their own experts since 1993
    --

  • Not only is there a great amount of debate in the scientific community ... but the evidence points squarely away from evolution in practically every instance.

    I would dispute that claim - you can't say that in almost every instance the evidence is against the theory of evolution, and then just provide one example as if that proves it. If there really was more proof against evolution, don't you think the scientific community (the majority of which are smart enough to know that they couldn't avoid evidence that overwhelming) would stop supporting the theory of evolution? I refuse to believe that the worldwide scientific community is maintaining a sham theory just because they like it better somehow.

    Sorry, but the theory of evolution is the current explanation that makes the most sense based on current evidence. It is much more likely that proto-turtles didn't have hard shells, and happened to mutate into real turtles fairly quickly, than it is that the entire theory of evolution is incorrect. Sure, there's stuff that isn't adequately explained at present, but evolution remains the best theory for explaining things on the basis of current evidence.

  • "The SCOTUS injected themselves into the process, not because of any legal argument, but because they wanted to make sure their candidate won the election."

    Ummm...how exactly did they "inject themselves" into it? The SC can only act on questions that people ask, it can't go out and find things to judge. And the question(s) asked of the SC were the same ones asked in Florida--questions, as I've pointed out, that REQUIRE a federal-level court to decide them.

    I didn't like their decision much either, but that doesn't mean I think they are corrupt.

    --
  • Actually, the SCOTUS only became involved after the Florida Supreme Court interjected itself into the situation, when Federal law gave the power to the state legislature. There were written laws published well before the election governing how the election should be conducted, including the time frame in which the county election boards must report results. These laws even included penalties for county election boards which did not report the results by the deadlines. The Florida Supreme Court decided that those deadlines were irrelevant, and set it's OWN deadlines, completely violating the seperation of powers AND the Federal law which dictated that the rules for conducting elections could not be retroactively changed. A PERFECT case for strict enforcement of the seperation of powers, and the impeachment of judges who violate them.
  • Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
  • I'll bet that judges would make more justifyable decisions if they actually knew what the person was talking about instead of having to pick the person who uses the longer words. Not only would it increase the public opinion of the legal system, but some proper rulings will be more likely to be made.
  • You misunderstood.

    A true scientist doesn't follow his 'views' or 'beliefs', a true scientist follows the scientific method to it's conclusion to the best of his abilities, beliefs be damned.

    A scientist who has 'views' isn't practicing good science. The whole point of this move by the AAAS is to defend against these types of scientists by having good ones in there.

    Don't bother with the age old argument that science is just another form of "beliefs", it's not.
  • Maybe it's a good thing that justice won't be blinded by ignorace and stupidity.... oh, and FP
  • by SupahVee (146778) <superv&mischievousgeeks,net> on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:14AM (#414474) Journal
    This is a damn fine idea, but it sure would have been nice to have the judge Kaplan in the DeCSS case. He was so brainwashed by the MPAA, he couldn't have found his ass with both hands, a flashlight and a GPS.
  • Regarding your example of a prof on a thesis committee: that sounds more like a biased judge than a good lawyer. It's not adversarial, it's judicial.

    Regarding your example of a Defender of the Faith: unless the guy is a rhetorical genius and his audience is full of the easily-led, you should conclude he's doing his job. If you're going to classify someone as a saint in your religion, and infallibility of the church is one of your tenets, then there should be a high burden of proof against canonization, and you would expect very few people to be canonized.

    But in general, I agree with you that the adversarial system is not, in reality, a terrific way to get at the truth. We're not necessarily stuck with it though; I think we haven't put enough thought into alternatives.
  • by fatphil (181876) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:15AM (#414476) Homepage
    How impartial is impartial?
    Would the AAAS not be considered to be biased in some states/districts, for example if there were to be a "rights to not be taught evolution" case?
    I'm not saying AAAS bods wouldn't be "right" in this case, I'm just saying that they are able to color the situation with their own views as much as anyone else, and hence would not be impartial to the case in hand.

    FatPhil
    --
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:45AM (#414477)
    I'm amazed (and alarmed) that the courts ever started taking the testimony of paid witnesses to begin with. How can you believe the word of anyone who is being paid by one side in a dispute? (Let alone someone who makes their living that way, as many do.)

    If scientists or other specialists do in fact have expert knowledge that is needed for the resolution of a case, let the courts serve them a subpoena -- just like they do for real witnesses.

    --
  • One of the problems is that many judges, whether through inexperience with the medium or deliberate intent, really want to see technology as an excuse to rewrite basic law. As just one example, including a hyperlink to a page is little different from providing a bibliographic reference in a paper document-- but recent decisions draw make the former a potential crime.

    While many cases would be helped by a judge who understands the issues (particularly in the area of patent infringement), a large percentage of the important cases before the courts rely on very subjective interpretations by judges who will probably never "get it", no matter how well they are re-educated.

  • by dachshund (300733) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:50AM (#414479)
    The AMA is a good example of an "impartial" scientific organization. But they themselves have a lot of connections with big industry. If you were an individual or a small company with a case against a large medical corporation, would you want put all your faith in an "unbiased" expert witness whose motives may not be completely unbiased?
  • by werdna (39029) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:52AM (#414480) Journal
    The notion of using a special master to advise judges on particular technical or legal issues is hardly new. There is substantial case law suggesting that the appointment of a special master is within the sound discretion of the court (which means that the appointment, even over the objection of the parties, is reviewed solely for abuse of discretion).

    Still the exercise of discretion generally requires the judge to consider the concerns of the parties. Just because AALS says an expert is unbiased, that representation would be unlikely to suffice. Further, even where there is a special master, each side is likely to produce its own experts, whose credentials and expertise may well impress the factfinder more than the remarks of the special master. The master serves as an aide to, and does not supplant, the judge, in any case.

    Astute observers will note that a special master, Lessig, was appointed to advise the judge in U.S. v. Microsoft, although that particular appointment was something of a cause celebre.
  • ah...but do they teach ethics? THAT is the problem...
  • they're comprised of people too stupid to avoid jury detail.

    When I was summoned for jury duty, I made no effort to avoid it. I wanted to participate and see what it was like. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring two books with me. I got through the first book and most of the second before one of the trials I got assigned to actualy happened, on the third day. I am not sure I would want to do that again, but only because of the two wasted days. Once I actually got into a trial, I really found it interesting.

    Edward Burr

  • Wooo! meritocracy argument - excellent.
    You're both part right. There are certainly people who are not qualified (as rational people) to judge evidence, and there are some who certainly aren't. IQ is not necessarily an indication of this I'll accept. How ESN (hey, screw PC, I think it's a perfectly valid term) does someone need to be before they don't have the right to be part of the running of society? So you need a way of judging the eligibility. I reckon that in the same way that there's a driving test, there ought to be a voting test and a jury test too. I'm not asking for much, merely that the principles involved are understood. A society run by the elite would not be an improvement at all.
    Having said that, with the adversarial system most countries use, you can't get biased expert witnesses to put fancy falsities into your case, as they are cross-examinable. As long as the other party or its councel have the required knowledge to shoot down the falsities, then the jury don't need to be good at anything apart from weighing two counter arguments with opposing views. Both councels have the same weapons at hand, and a logical scientist will be as able to get a lawyer in knots as the reverse. Hey, I've seen every episode of Quincy, I know that science wins out in the end!
    :-)
    FatPhil
    --

  • You fink?

    (Assume for a moment you lived in the UK)

    If you were caught jerking off to your favourite pics at goatse.cx, you would be prosecuted for *distribution* of obscene material.

    Now, who would you rather be at the jury, some bible bashing christian with a degree, or Jon Doe with his equally large selection of pics (without the degree)?

    Remember that the jury would have to decide whether the material was obscene/corrupt/etc

    I stand by my original assertion that juries should be representative of society and not selected by education.
  • What about media copyrights? A song, movie, book, whatever in digital form is, after all, just a big old binary number. Is it right to say "You may make a copy of that number, but not that other number."? Based on the logic in your post, all copyright laws should be abolished.

    ... the thing is, the logic in your post is unimpeachable. So it would seems that one of two things has to happen: the courts will remain (perhaps willfully) ignorant of computation theory, or the whole idea of IP will have to be reexamined and probably tossed out entirely. Which do you think is more likely?
  • Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

    That's the Declaration of Independence.

    On the other hand, the Fourteenth Amendment [usconstitution.net] specifically mentions the rights to "life, liberty, and property".

  • Problem with the Napster trials is that there is no right and wrong.

    I don't see why this should pose a problem for courts. It is not for the court to rule on "right and wrong", the court only rules on what's "legal" and what isn't.

    A courtroom is not really the place to decide these issues, and, in the end, probably wont be the place they are decided.

    The courtroom is most certainly the place to decide whether or not a particular action is or is not legal. It's not the courts place to decide whether or not freeloading is ethical (it almost never is), it's their job to decide whether a particular act of freeloading is legal.

    As for who decides what should become law, this is something the politicians decide with the appropriate guidance of philosophers who contemplate ethics, and society who elect them. This is where the "political/social/philosophical" side of the picture comes into play. Writing laws that are clear and fair is the hard part. Trying to work out whether or not someone broke a law is a somewhat simpler (though still nontrivial) matter.

  • For example, there are no proto-turtles, yet there are millions of turtle fossils. What happened? Was there an organism that went around collecting and eating proto-turtle shells and leaving everything else alone?
    There's an easy answer to that one. The proto-turtle was around for a short period of time. Once the base mutation occurred, it quickly evolved to fit in the various ecological niches.

    Think about it for a moment: How many people do you know that have Linux 0.X kernels out there? How many people do you know that have linux 2.X kernels on CD?. If society had a nuclear war today, an archeologist would be far more likely to find a 2.X kernel than a 0.X kernel. That doesn't mean that 0.X doesn't exist.

    A proto turtle would be analogous to a Linux 0.X -- interesting, but rare.

    <rant> In any case, the 'catastrophists' and 'classical' evolutionists schools are mostly differing on the form of evolution, not the validity of it. Some people may latch onto the former as disproving evolution. In my world -- even though the catastrophist approach is more consistent with biblical view, I don't think that it's necessarily inconsistent with the basic concept of evolution.

    I also don't feel that evolution is necessarily inconsistent withThe Bible. The Bible has lots of ambiguity in it. For example, we don't know how long God's first days were. We do know that the earth didn't exist until the second, so it's clear that God's evening and morning have little, if anything, to do with the earth's rotation. </rant>
    --

  • I haven't read SiaSL (or any Heinlein for that matter, although I really really should; any suggestions for which book to start with?), but did these Witnesses just walk around all day recording everything they saw in case it could be needed in court? How is that different from having video cameras on every street corner that save what they record in a central location only accessible by the courts? I'm curious because you said "...this would be a good thing", and I don't think there would be many people on /. supporting universal surveillance by video cameras, so I'm wondering what makes the Witnesses fundamentally different? Should I just go read SiaSL?
  • Depends on whether you believe he is being paid for his time or for his opinion.

    The money can be used on cross-examination to impeach the witness. Generally, unless the pay is out of line for what the person normally makes, it isn't an issue to a jury.

    Experts are worth money in the real world (outside of the courtroom), and it would be silly to ask them to work for free just because they are in a courtroom.

    That said, there are guys who give testimony for a living pretty much. I have no idea why juries believe them -- probably because they think: "What else would a slip-and-fall expert do other than testify?"

  • The central principle in our justice system is that it is an adversarial process, where those party to the case or controversy present their side of the story in the most compelling fashion possible, while simultaneously discrediting their adversaries.

    It's not about truth, or science, at all.

    Truth is objective, and while the search for truth is a good working definition of science, it's not truth that matters in court. It's Justice. Our adversarial process is predicted upon the assumption that in any controversy brought before the courts (i.e. in which there is by definition some essential disagrement fit for adjudication, with guilt or responsibility unassigned) the litigants will do their best to link the facts of the case together into a convincing story, a partisan narrative, which reconstructs reality in the courtroom. Again, this isn't about truth. Both sides tell their own stories, and when the verdict is handed down it doesn't validate the essential truth of anything, it creates the presence, or absence of guilt. That's all. Justice is not a quest for truth, but rather for guilt.

    The system relies upon everyone involved to do their job -- not to tell the truth, but to tell their side of the story to a judge or jury that is willing and capable of being persuaded. A courtroom is a forum for partisan advocates, and honest witnesses; regardless of the persuasiveness of their opinions or the validity of their science, the presence of an impartial advisor -- no matter how expert -- to a judge, undermines the efficacy of our justice system by complicating the essence of decision. What happens, for instance, when a judge or jury decides that neither the plaintiff nor the defendent is persuasive, because of advice or opinions of an independent science advisor?

  • impartial scientists to testify :

    gee, what's next ?

    sober lawyers for the sentenced to death ?

  • (Assume for a moment you lived in the UK)

    I do now.

    If you were caught jerking off to your favourite pics at goatse.cx, you would be prosecuted for *distribution* of obscene material.

    LOL, now that would never happen. Pornography is morally wrong in that it degrades women, and ethically wrong in that women are often forced in to it by their boyfriends, and are treated like objects for the lusts of men who cannot find themselves a wife.

    But in a "hypothetical" situation like you describe then I would rather have a jury of my technical peers than some monkeys off of the streets of London. After all, the dubious morality of the average "geek" is well known, as is their love of pornography and acceptance of dubious lifestyle choices like homosexuality.

    I stand by my original assertion that juries should be representative of society and not selected by education.

    And I stand by my assertion you are wrong.

  • South Africa has had this for years. A colleague of mine served on a panel advising the high court in South Africa when the Wouter Basson Chemical Warfare trial was on. This really isn't news and it proves why the US is falling behind the rest of the world in terms of social structure.

    For a really advanced country as far as this sort of thing is concerned, check out the Netherlands.

  • If you were an individual or a small company with a case against a large medical corporation, would you want put all your faith in an "unbiased" expert witness whose motives may not be completely unbiased?

    Even if an "expert's" motives are pure, there are a lot of scientific areas in which prevailing scientific wisdom may be incomplete, incorrect, or channeled within political or bureaucratic imperatives. I'm thinking, for instance, of epidemiology, where certain state agencies set criteria within which the experts pronounce. Meanwhile, plaintiffs in toxic waste-related lawsuits often don't get to challenge the frameworks within which state experts are told to operate.

    I was a recent Buffalo City Council meeting regarding the neighborhood of Hickory Woods, which the *city* itself redeveloped on slag- and toxic-waste filled land and then sold to homeowners using subsidies. At the hearing, there were homeowner after homeowner testifying to pets dying, kids getting seriously ill, their own illnesses, including arsenic-induced internal bleeding, cancer, etc. It was enough for the Council to pass yesterday a resolution looking toward full relocation. The mayor is not yet officially convinced, and he is waiting for a report from the Dept of Health. Guess what? To my knowledge, NYS DOH has never started with an evaluation of any site as immediately dangerous: not with Love Canal and not with Forest Glen, both of which became Federal Environmental Emergencies. BTW, Hickory Woods has toxic levels well above Forest Glen's....

    Dave
  • I think we need to ensure that people serving in the jury have a minimum of education to ensure that they can weight the evidence in a rational manner. This would ensure that the facts are the most important part of the case, rather than the words of a fancy lawyer.


    I agree, but the chances of this are small. Recent jury questionares have started asking for level of educations as well as specific areas of experetise. For instance, I have seen a grand jury questionare that asked if you had a degree in law, or a doctor's or nursing degree, and if you did, to recurse yourself from the jury immedately. For myself there are only two ways to think about this: The first being the lawyers invovled didn't want too smart of people involved, or want people that might be sympathetic to one side or the other.


    Either way, it is somewhat doubtful that this will happen for several reasons, not the least of which is that in the US it is less than 25% of the population has ever gone to college to receive a degree.

  • "In a true libertarian government, the judicial system would only have the ability to sentance people accused of crimes, and yet now in this socialist system it's gotten so powerful that they're selecting our president for us."

    Leaving aside why you think arguments about a "true libertarian government" apply to the US, let me ask this question: Who do would you rather have selected the president? It simply isn't (and especially, wasn't in this case) possible to be exactly accurate and fair when you are talking about millions and millions of people. When disputes arise (and disputes ALWAYS arise), somebody has to be the final arbiter. In this country, that's the Supreme Court.

    Would you rather have left it to the Florida legislature? Or ANY elected official, in or out of Florida? Or perhaps we should have "let the people decide"--of course, we did that once; it was called "election night" and it didn't work the first time around. Maybe we should have broken out the guns and nooses (neece?)? I don't necessarily think the Supreme Court was right, but I DO think it was reasonable.

    Any system of government that doesn't provide for the resolution of disputes won't last very long. And some of those disputes will be self-referential, but there's literally no mathematical way around that.
    --
  • by Artagel (114272) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @11:18AM (#414498) Homepage

    The issues surrounding scientific evidence have been getting heightened attention for at least ten years in the courts. There are a number of other instances of courts using independent experts to try to get a grip on the scientific truth of a case. In a recent biotech patent case, the judge picked from a list of scientists agreed upon by the parties to get someone to act as a background resource. A panel of court-appointed experts was used in the silicone breast implant litigation.

    I expect that the AAAS lists won't be used by judges without input from the parties, just because the parties are the ones who have stuff on the line in the case.

    I think that the AAAS's move is a positive one. I would like to think that other scientific, medical, and engineering societies could follow suit. Such lists would help in one significant way -- identifying which experts are willing to work on court cases or not.

    This move by the AAAS was made a couple of years ago in response to Supreme Court cases that changed the standards for the acceptance of scientific testimony. Among scientists, the Supreme Court actually has a very high reputation, perhaps in part because of the seriousness that the Court has approached issues relating to scientific evidence.

    One thing that will limit the use of such experts by the courts may well be money. Courts do not have a lot of funding to pay for experts. Courts might try ordering the parties to split the cost, but that is not always fair to a little guy who is having a hard enough time getting by in the litigation.

    I hope judges will make more use of independent experts, especially in cases like the breast implant case, where large numbers of people's rights regarding their health are potentially dependent on expert opinion. It is more important to get a case right when a million people have a stake than just one.

  • Regarding your example of a prof on a thesis committee: that sounds more like a biased judge than a good lawyer. It's not adversarial, it's judicial.

    well, it is called "defending your thesis" for a reason - the judges/jury is supposed to question your conclusions and try to poke holes in your methods. Different disiplines and levels of thesis have different levels of scrutiny, but it is theoretically a partially adversarial process.

    Kahuna

  • >In an evolution-type case, the AAAS scientist could tell the judge "So far as the evidence points to, evolution is the best explanation as to how complex life forms on Earth came to be".

    ...and be instantly shot down by the opposing side's lawyer:

    FundieLawyer: You say the best explanation, but is it the only explanation?
    AAAS Expert: No, merely the one most supported by current data.
    FundieLawyer: What about my client's proposition that it's turtles-all-the-way-down? AAAS Expert: That theory does not appear to be supported by evidence. FundieLawyer: But if evidence were to be found, it would then be a theory supported by evidence, no? AAAS Expert: Yes, it would be, if someone looked over the edge of the earth and saw a giant turtle. FundieLawyer: So you admit it! You admit not only that evolution isn't the only possible explanation, but because my client has a sworn deposition saying that he teaches Turtle Theory on the basis of a paper by a Dr. Xyzzy Fromitz, and Dr. Xyzzy's paper clearly states that he's seen a giant turtle, upon whose back the earth rides! The prosecution rests!

    Impartial scientific experts are a good thing.

    Better, would be a course in epistemology and philosophy of science for any law student or judge who would rule in a case in which science mattered.

    Since you can't do that during a case, you'd have to make it part of the standards for becoming a lawyer or judge in the first place.

  • by Alien54 (180860) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @06:17AM (#414504) Journal
    I wonder how this will work in the Soft Sciences.

    For example there are many social theories that have not had any solid scientific proof except in the harse world of politics. And even there it would be questionable. One example of this would be marxism, which since most of those systems have fallen, can be said to be a flawed system. This can hardly be taken as scientific proof.

    Another example is in the field of mental health where despite billions of dollars of goverment funding, we hardly have a better society because of it. In fact, there have been dozens if not hundreds of schools of mental practice since WWII, but not much in terms of real social advance. The things touted as major advances often lead to things like Hellmouth. And there is not much that could stand up to the standards of proof demanded by hard Science. Referances include respected people such as Thomas Sasz(?) and others.

    The real problem is when the hard or soft science is biased because of political agendas, which is what this program is supposed to counteract. I think that there will be some commontion caused by all of this.

  • Juries are more of a study in manipulative group psychology than in any honest judgement of what's right or wrong. After reading a bit on the subject (I'm minoring in psych at the moment), I'm truly frightened that one day such a group of people might judge me or a friend.

    People tend to be so confident of their ability to see into others that they fail to realize they are being driven to a particular verdict -- even when they KNOW the lawyers are trying to do this. Most people think they can tell when someone else is lying, but this is almost never the case, and certainly not a reliable basis for judging someone's guilt or innocence.

    In short, juries are seriously flawed, at least as they are presently implemented. Better than an arbitrary decision by a judge, perhaps -- but at least a judge is trained in the field and *usually* doesn't have a strong bias one way or another.

    -John
  • by shaper (88544) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @06:25AM (#414509) Homepage

    True scientists aren't biased...

    Hoo hoo! Ha ha! Hee hee! That's a good one! That statement is incorrect in so many ways that it boggles the mind. How about:

    Scientists are by definition human (on Earth anyway) and so are biased, by definition. The perfect human has not yet been invented. :-)

    In practice, it is actually much worse than that, given that modern science can be very political in the quest for funding dollars and research grants.

    The people who are most knowledgeable about a given scientific subject have much at stake (professional reputation, the aforementioned research dollars) in propounding or repudiating a particular view on that subject. It's possible that the most knowledgable person may be the least objective, especially in a confrontational legal setting where their own work may be called into question.

    I could go on, but I think I've made the point...

  • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @07:20AM (#414510) Homepage

    But, as the article clearly states:

    Federal judges have had the right to appoint experts to advise both judge and jury since 1975

    As long as they have that right, it makes sense to give them an opportunity to take good advantage of it by finding competent scientific advisors- which is all that the system does. Nobody is forcing the justice system to bring them in, either, so the judge will only call one in when he thinks that it's warranted. Besides, it's not as though the judges and juries have to take the scientists' words as gospel just because they're not being hired by one side or the other. They'll still be required to judge the scientists' opinions and credibility the same way that they would any other witness. If the scientist has an obvious bias, his testimony can be discounted the same way that any other biased witness's testimony would be discounted.

  • If you expect jurors to be experts in the field in which the alleged crime took place, then you are by definition introducing prejudices into the process. If you stack a jury in an MP3 copyright-infringement case with Slashdot readers, you're only looking at one side of the coin.

    Also, remember that in countries like Canada, defendents get to choose between trial by judge or jury, so it's not really possible to say judges only fill one role.
    ---
  • Is anyone else reminded of the concept of an 'impartial observer' from that sci-fi book about a child who was raised by martians. Sorry, can't remember the name of the book, but it was also the first time I heard the term 'grok'.

    In this novel, specially trained people donned a white cloak and instantly became observers. While wearing the cloak, they could only report on exactly what they heard or saw without any interpretation or extrapolation. Their status as an observer held special legal status much like a notary public, and they could be used for much of the same functions, ie. providing witness to the signing of a contract.

    I see this as a good idea, IFF the advisors are given strict training in how to be impartial, and that their status an advisor is maintained by stringent rules. An understanding would develope that status as an advisor would be a position of honor, and the honor of the position would be soiled by any misconduct that would reflect on the advisors as a group. The advisors would police themselves to maintain that honor. If they did not do a good job, they would not be believable (and therefore not used) in court.

  • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @07:35AM (#414516) Homepage

    OTOH, most court cases aren't going to involve extremely contentious issues that are hot ongoing research topics. Instead they're going to pit one side that actually has the weight of generally accepted scientific though behind it and one side that's dug up the one scientist in a thousand who has a wacked out alternate theory. The problem is that the average judge or juror isn't going to be able to tell the two apart based only on the testimony of the two sides' witnesses. Each of them is going to present himself as the more reliable party and without an unbiased third party to help decide the issue it's likely to be a tossup. Heck, in many cases it's worse than that because the guy supporting the wacko view is a professional witness who has lots of experience convincing juries while the guy supporting the real science is a practicing scientist who's only used to talking to other scientists.

    Actually, in some cases it's worse than that. My boss was an expert witness in the OJ civil trial, testifying about the mass spectrometry evidence of EDTA contamination in the blood samples. I can't see how any practicing scientist could possibly have concluded that the samples were contaminated based on the evidence they had (the alleged EDTA was a background peak, while it should have stood out like a sore thumb) but the defense dug up somebody who was willing to testify that they were. I'm sure that money changing hands had a lot to do with it. A third scientist who reached his conclusion based on the evidence instead of how much money was going into his research budget (my boss at least took his fee as a donation to his research, not for his personal use) would have been much more reliable.

  • I'm actually surprised that nobody's posted the URL of the original AAAS press release. [aaas.org]

    It doesn't say much more than the Science Daily article, but it has a whole slew of interesting-looking links on it.
    --

  • It's not just tech-savvy. Judges also need to have substantial comprehension of a complex body of law, and its underlying policies. This is generally true of all areas, but most District Court and virutally all state court judges (outside of the Northern District of California, the Rocket Docket of Virginia and perhaps the Southern District of New York) have precious little understanding of the law. In practice, all they will have seen before making substantive decisions is a few 30-50 page briefs and perhaps some oral arguments regarding the same.

    In the U.K., there are special trial courts for patent actions (although they use the same appellate courts). In the U.S., it is exactly the opposite, general trial courts and a specialized appellate bench.

    As to providing "minimum educations" for a jury, that specific requirement, even of a literacy test, has been held unconstitutional.
  • I hope you didn't mean American judges in that post. You have it completly wrong.

    But, primarily it is to determine which laws, if any, may have been broken.

    The judges role in any case (criminal or civil) is to make sure the trial follows the courts procedures. It's not his/her job to decide what laws a defendant has broken, or what civil action they are liable for; that privaledge is given to the people, represented by the district attorneys or (in a civil case) the party that are enacting the law suit (respectively). In a criminal case it's the Judge's job to hand out an appropriate sentence if a guilty verdict is reached. In a civil case the judge might instruct the jury as to what the law says they can award to the litigant they side with.

    "Me Ted"

  • Oh well, we'll have to agree to disagree.

    BTW, There is no point bashing porn or geeks, you sound like a politician who wants to be seen as "the pillar of the community", but in the privacy of his home, enyoys those things he "finds" morally wrong like wife-swapping or boning younger men.

  • What happens when someone sues the AAAS, and they need an expert witness? :-)
  • I'm not a loonitarian, but...

    Actually it was up to the Supreme Court in Florida to interpret the election laws down there in the most fair way.

    I don't think it's at all reasonable for a party to go around advocating state's rights and constructionist interpretation of the Constitution, and then throw that all to the wind when it's inconvenient for their political power plays.

    Sorry, the mechanism for deciding disputes was in place... The Republicans just didn't like the decision that was made.

  • I will not grant that this is a better system.
    If you are any good at your field, you are
    likely to have an opinion. When you have an
    opinion, it is very hard to give a a truly
    balanced critique / overview of a topic.

    If you have just one person acting as an
    interpreter, you have a significant chance of
    getting a person who has one bias.

    In the current system, you have one side bringing
    up their 'experts' who will have a guaranteed bias,
    however, you will have on the other side 'experts'
    that will have a guaranteed bias to the other
    extreme. It is better to have two known biases
    offsetting each other, than one bias that has
    no balance.

    And besides, who will decide who is qualified to
    have an expert 'unbiased' opinion. And who will
    decide who will decide? etc.

    -CrackElf
  • by killbill (10058) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @06:49AM (#414533) Homepage
    The judicial system protects those of us interested in liberty from those of us who aren't who seem to often make their way into the legislative and executive branches. A woman's Right to Choose would not exist if the Supreme Court weren't there to protect it. Why? There are lots of stupid, vocal Southern social conservatives in Congress. These people, who are as far from Libertarian as you can imagine, want things like creationism taught in schools and they want to return women to the kitchen and the bedroom.

    You do people on both sides of an important issue a great disservice when you attempt to misrepresent an important issue like abortion.

    You will find the great majority of people interested in ending abortion motivated by the constitution, to which the right to not be killed is fundamental.

    You will find the great majority of people interested in maintaining the rights to abortion motivated by the desire for a woman to be able to live her life as she desires.

    The real question here has to be to determine at which point a life actually begins, and at which point an individual is protected by the constitution. It is an important question, and one that can be tricky to answer when the stakes are so high.

    But taking the views of an extremely small and vocal minority, and trying to paint about 50% of the population with that brush, only serves to divide and inflame people while demonstrating your ignorance.

    Sorry if this sounds a little harsh... but I think this is too important an issue to be trivialized and misrepresented, no matter which side you are on.

    Bill
    (eliminating my +1 bonus because this is way off topic)...
  • You've got to love that term, sheeple, that a significant minority of Libertarians use to refer to all Non-Libertarians. Every time I hear that word, I hear, "I hate you and what you think, and think that your priorities are misbegotten. Vote for my party anyway, you freedom-hating slave!" No wonder these people got tromped by every other political party. You can't be on a Libertarian mailing list for more than a week without learning about the average Libertarian's total contempt for humanity in general and all Non-Libertarians (sheeple) in specific.

    My association with these arrogant, self-righteous fools ended with the Harry Browne campaign - my campaign donations will go elsewhere. How do they ever expect to win an election when they can not hide thier contempt for anyone and everyone who do not think like they do? It doesn't matter if you're right if your mere attitude makes people hate you the second you open your mouth!

  • by amstrad (60839) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:18AM (#414541)
    ...that the judges didn't choose the Fox Networks "scientific correspondents"
  • by Jon Erikson (198204) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:19AM (#414544)

    I've been with companies that have been involved in court before over technical issues, and it's not pretty! Because when it comes to matters of technical intellectual property, most people even in the field would have difficulty deciding which way to go, and that's when they can understand the arguments...

    I think what we need is to ensure that for tech cases that the judge is technically qualified, otherwise it all comes down to whichever side can put foward the slickest presentation of why they are "right". That's exactly what happened to one company I worked for, and it caused them to go bankrupt in the end.

    But perhaps we need to take it further and ensure that in all cases juries are at least familiar with technical issues. Foresnic evidence and statistical analysis of such is now an important part of many criminal investigations, and there are numerous studies showing how unreliable witeness evidence is. But most people just blindly accept eyewitness accounts, which has led to any number of miscarraiges of justice.

    I think we need to ensure that people serving in the jury have a minimum of education to ensure that they can weight the evidence in a rational manner. This would ensure that the facts are the most important part of the case, rather than the words of a fancy lawyer. In the end, this can only led more a more just court system.

  • A new human life begins at conception. I doubt anyone would seriously argue that an unfertilized egg or a non-implanted sperm qualifies as an individual human life.

    I fail to see how your argument invalidates my position or makes it "a mistake to say that life begins at conception."

    It's a mistake because it assumes a difference where it is arguable at best. What does the zygote have that the two gametes did not have a moment before?

    About 2/3 of all zygotes die naturally before birth under the best of circumstances; the average death rate has been estimated to be 3/4. I do not consider a unicellular lifeform with odds that poor to be a human being by any stretch of the imagination. It may someday become one (and achieve the status of "a citizen born or naturalized"), but potential is not actuality.

    The easiest way out of this is to mind your own business. The people who agree with you will do things your way. The people who disagree with you will do things their way. If you feel you have to tell other people how to deal with some of the most important issues which will ever face them, you deserve to be told to fsck off.
    --
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard

  • You realize that this is just another load of crap the government is dumping on us. The judical system has far more authority now than specified in the Constitution, and you sheeple just keep bleeting away and giving them more and more.

    In a true libertarian government, the judicial system would only have the ability to sentance people accused of crimes, and yet now in this socialist system it's gotten so powerful that they're selecting our president for us.

    I see my fellow libertarians on this site, and I see them rail against the evils of patents, drug laws, and outragious atrocities to American sovreignity like the UN, but they don't seem to realize that there's another tenticle of this horrible beast wrapped around the very system of justice we hold so much faith in.

    I can only hope that people start to realize this, and no longer accept the false authority of those who would rule us in black robes.


    --
  • "The judges don't use this authority to appoint experts, and one reason they don't is that they don't know where to go for the expertise," Runkle says. "We think they will feel comfortable coming to us because they can say they are going to an organization with tremendous prestige and no vested interest in the outcome of a given case."
    No invested interest - is this so? How are AAAS members selected? What do we know about their expertise or their interests? AAAS gets so much power since they will be trusted by judges and judges will rely on AAAS members' opinions. Who will control AAAS?
    Of-course there is a need for such organization, I am just wondering how will it be monitored and supervised to provide really educated and impartial views.
  • What you call 'freeloading' was standard practice for thousands of years.

    No, it wasn't. There were major technical barriers to doing so, such as a lack of recording equipment. Perhaps you are misunderstanding my use of the term. In case you're wondering, I don't think that playing your own interpretation of another artists work is "freeloading". But that's not what the napsterite commie thugs are doing.

    I think it is the people who wish to take the fruits of thousands of years of civilisation, and then claim that they now 'own' them.

    Huh ? No one is claiming to "own" any such thing. The main issue in the Napster case is about musicians having exclusive rights to their own performances of their own works. It's not like the Napsterites are performing cover songs or something like that (as if that bunch of low life thugs would ever do anything moderately creative ... ) they are wholesale copying.

    The concept of 'intellectual property' is the freeloading, and is doomed.

    The one thing that certainly is doomed are short sighted attempts to benefit (in the short term) by dispossesing others.

  • The job of a lawyer is to win his cases. The job of the professor would be to be fair and honest.

    read the quoted part that I was responding to again. that was my point. That by focusing only on winning, the lawyer is not part of a "truth finding" system at all. If the job of a lawyer is to be part of a system to find the truth, a lawer that always wins, regardless of true guilt or innocence is a bad lawyer. If he is a good lawyer, then our court system is not there to find the truth, but to act as a slightly more civilized trial by combat.

    Kahuna Burger

  • I think what we need is to ensure that for tech cases that the judge is technically qualified,

    But it's more important that they are legally qualified. It's an almost unrealistic goal that they be technical experts.

    But perhaps we need to take it further and ensure that in all cases juries are at least familiar with technical issues.

    that's what "expert witnesses" are there for.

    I think we need to ensure that people serving in the jury have a minimum of education to ensure that they can weight the evidence in a rational manner.

    If we do this, why bother having a jury at all ? I mean, what purpose do the jury serve ? Is it supposed to be a way for the aristocracy to give their input into society ? Why stop at merely making the threshold a bachelors degree, and letting those who don't understand law serve, why not require law degrees ? Assuming that a system of "trial by the elite" is desirable, trial by jury is not an effective way to implement such a thing.

  • Don't forget, the attorney for the other side gets to cross-examine.
  • "Sorry, the mechanism for deciding disputes was in place... The Republicans just didn't like the decision that was made."

    You are right, they didn't. And that's why they made a big stink. But that alone doesn't invalidate their claim OR my point. The case was kicked up the the US Supreme Court on the grounds that the state court made a ruling that conflicted with the Constitution (voter discrimination based on county of residence). You may not agree that this condition held, but regardless it's not a matter the state court can decide. Since the conflict was at a higher level, the higher level court had to be invoked.

    But all these details are beside the point. The point the OP was making was that non-criminal matters are being decided by judges. My response is: who else? The decisions have to be made by SOMEBODY.
    --
  • by werdna (39029) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @06:56AM (#414560) Journal
    Common law adjudication, though it moves glacially at times, tends to adapt quite well and to yield just results in the end. While it took five or ten years to fully sort out the patent-like protections earlier courts gave to Copyrights, resulting in the very balanced and "almost-right" (Altai) measures of infringement used today, the Courts did that entirely on their own, with only an eighteen month period where anyone took "look and feel" Copyright claims seriously.

    The latest string of cases result almost entirely from Congressional meddling in the general purpose acts. Regrettably, in overreaction to the suggestion that these "old laws are too out of date to work today," statutes like the NET act and the DMCA have modified Copyright law to become computer law -- and unsurprisingly a computer law that favors only the most powerful content-holders.

    The law *IS* horribly unbalanced now that these laws have been passed. And virtually every time the Congress has considered the matter, things got worse. We were far better off letting the process work in its course through the slower, yet surer, vehicle of the common law.
  • by elflord (9269) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @07:03AM (#414562) Homepage
    b) they're comprised of people too stupid to avoid jury detail. So if anything the average intelligence of a jury is somewhat lower than the mean.

    Not everyone is dying to avoid their duties. And if there's any self-selection going on here, the process tends to choose those who care enough to do what they're supposed to do. However, it's worth adding that the jury is not entirely self-selected anyway, as both sides screen jurors.

    On the other hand, people in more cognitive fields are used to analysing a situation rationally and logically. Just look at the cut and thrust of debate here on /. It's very similar to how a courtroom should be,

    Not at all, and this raises exactly the problem -- allowing a particular group to dominate the proceedings is simply not a recipe for fairness. Could we expect a group of slashdotters to be impartial in a Napster trial, or a copyright infringement case, for example ?

  • Problem with the Napster trials is that there is no right and wrong. Its a political/social/philosophical thing.

    One side thinks its fine for such a thing as 'intellectual property' to exist, and are prepared to do anything to protect it.

    The other side sees the absurdities and horrifying implications of this view and wishes to repudiate it.

    A courtroom is not really the place to decide these issues, and, in the end, probably wont be the place they are decided.

  • It would also be nice to get Mathematicians (Computer Scientists are "Mathematicians", not "Scientists"... history landed the field with a bad name). Scientists don't cover all of the new tech cases, and expert mathematicians are also needed.

    Any good mathematician could describe to a judge how an algorithm is nothing more than a mathematical proof (see Curry-Howard isomorphism for a starter) with cut-elimination as the actual computation/processing, and digital data is nothing more than a natural number written in base 2 (see any good "intro computation theory" book). Therefore protecting all computer programs and data under first amendment rights which already protect mathematical things such as proofs and numbers. Now, if the law wanted to limit mathematical things based on the formalisms they are written in, such as writting your proofs in C++ or some other conventional programming language is not allowed protection, well, that would be completely arbitrary law, seeing as two seemingly different formalisms can represent the same mathematical thing and Godel's incompleteness proof showed how their can be no universal mathematical formalism. Such laws would literally choke the freedom of mathematical expression.

    DeCSS, nothing more than a proof coupled with a nice big number. How can the law forbid formal mathematical proofs and numbers? Is mathematics limited based on formalism?
  • by KahunaBurger (123991) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @08:29AM (#414570)
    Furthermore, the whole premise of the American judicial system is that that the adversary system is the best way to get at the truth.

    But does it work? And do most people think its even supposed to?

    Let me ask you a question : If you have a defense lawyer, assigned his clients at random, and he wins every single case - never even plea bargins, just always wins an aquital - is he a good lawyer? Most people I've asked this question say yes imediately. Most are confused on how there could be any question. But if you look at real adversarial truth processes, its different.

    If you had a professor assigned to thesis jurys that in every case he was there the thesis defense failed - no one ever got their thesis with him on the jury asking questions - would he be a good jury member? If you had a Defender of the Faith (formerly known as the Devil's Advocate) who presents an adversarial point of view when cannonizing saints, and not one person is made a saint during his tenure, is he a good defender of the faith? In these cases, most would say no - the point of the system is to weed out those truely unworthy, not to stage gladitorial fights between champions and praise the one that always wins. But we are saying the opposite when we praise a lawyer that always wins.

    In theory, the adversarial justice system is there to find the truth. In practice, it seems to work to determine the truth. It's trial by combat - if Lancelot prevails, the queen's honor is intact, and the facts be damned. The idea that Lancelot would take a dive to make sure that the truth of combat occasionaly matches the facts is sacrilige.

    Do I have a better solution? Incremental reforms perhaps, and having impartial scientific testimony is a great start, but it doesn't do to have no defense, unless you've finally bioengeneered a true philosopher-king. In the real world, we're likely stuck with the adversarial system, but that doesn't mean that we have to ignore its flaws, and the fact that it often isn't even trying to "get at the truth" is a pretty big one.

    Kahuna Burger

  • Aren't these scientists biased? Aren't ALL people biased in some way? I am not sure about the rest of you, but when I was in school I had teachers that were biased to prefer one way or another way of what was best. It's like M$ and win 95. M$ said that the browser was integrated part of the desktop, and now with the releases of win me and win 2k it pretty much is. The web browser is now the file manager. Many said otherwise before and it was not necessary, but we see it is more so now. Many people who were anti M$ complained that it was not fair, but today we see almost teh same thing with kde and konqueror.

    The point is that everybody has an opinion about tech and how it should be taugh and what is right and not. What is to stop these 'paid' scientists from teaching their biased opinion? Furthermore what is to stop them from being bribed to teach a biased opinion?

    Unless they are talking about teaching judges concepts in programming and such I see problems ahead.

    I don't want a lot, I just want it all!
    Flame away, I have a hose!

  • This doesn't come as a surprise at all. Law is a knowledge-based industry, just like information technology. I would think any wise judge knows his own limits and welcomes impartial outside expert opinions. Just as a programmer couldn't possibly have the same depth of understanding of the law as a judge, so too a judge must be able to recognize when he's over his head in technical jargon. A very common practise, but it's still re-assuring to see that it's working.


    ---
  • by troyboy (9890) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:25AM (#414577)
    You raise a good point. Furthermore, the whole premise of the American judicial system is that that the adversary system is the best way to get at the truth. Both sides throw up their best arguments and the fact-finder decides who is right.
  • IANAL and IANAA (last A=American).

    Law is a funny thing. The judge has many roles to play in the courtroom. But, primarily it is to determine which laws, if any, may have been broken. The judge then instructs the Jury what conditions must be met to find the defendant guilty. In an ideal world, there is no need for the judge to be familiar with the business related to the case. As an analogy, one does not need to be able to play golf to be able to determine which rules may be broken.

    Although making the judge more knowledgable in the technology field is of some benefit, the important part is the Jury. The jury is meant to be your peers. It is my belief that jury should be golfers if the crime involved golf, and they should be technologists if the crime involved technology, etc.

    As always, it is difficult to select an impartial jury, but that is true for any case.

    just my thoughts...

  • This is actually part of a bigger AAAS Fellowship program. The fellowships, which will start next Academic Year, are the Science Justice and Public Policy fellowships.

    AAAS currently supplies technical fellows to the Executive branch and the Legislative branch. I am quite friendly with several of the fellows as my SO is here in Washington, D.C. on a fellowship.

    More information about the fellowships is availible here [aaas.org].

    If you have a Doctorate (or a Master's in Engineering) you should apply for one. You really get to influence public policy.

  • by PhatKat (78180) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:31AM (#414582) Homepage
    As a quite young man sits at the defendent's table waiting for the trial to begin, a representative from the AAAS hurriedly pushes past the flock of reporters to bring in their appointed expert witness.

    Judge: Is this our expert witness?

    AAAS: It is, your honor.

    Judge: Please approach the bench, and state your name, for the court's records.

    Expert Witness: 1 0w(\)z Jo0! (v)y Hax0r 5Ty]_3z /\r3 1337!!!!!

    Judge: Umm... court reporter, did you, uh, did you get that?... Court Reporter?

    Court Reporter: (looking at stenographic machine) Umm.... I don't think I have a "]_" on this thing. You know what? I'll just use a pen.



    Check out my diary [diaryland.com].
  • Too easy, man. Troll city...

    Evidence pointing away from evolution?! There's arguments about _how_ it happens, but the only argument about _whether_ it happens is coming from the religious side, who'd rather believe 3000-year old folk myths. AFAIK, in every conflict between religion and science, religion has come off second-best after a lot of screaming and kicking of feet (and, incidentally, killing ppl).

    Anyway, the only fossils we see are those which (a) die in a muddy environment, (b) that mud has to be the right kind to preserve it, (c) that muddy environment gets turned into rocks, (d) those rocks end up somewhere we can see. If the proto-turtle lived in a place with acidic soil, no fossils will exist bcos the remains will have long since dissolved, or if it lived in somewhere which is now the middle of Siberia, there may be millions of fossils but we'll never see them.

    In addition, the more common the animal was, the longer its species survived, and the wider the area the species covered, the more likely we are to find it. As an example, during the Industrial Revolution in the UK, evolution favoured black moths in a sooty environment, so within a few years most moths were black, but when industry cleaned up a bit more, the moths changed back to more natural colours. No-one is EVER likely to find a fossilised black moth, since they existed for such a short time-span in such a small area.

    Grab.
  • Who says scientists and engineers(paid or unpaid) can't be bribed?

    bribery is illegal. The lawyer could be disbarred, the case ruled a mistrial and the side that bribed the witness screwed. While possible it is hugely less likely than lawyers introducing bias into the experts they have legally hired.

    "hey, there's a tiny chance of a problem with this system! we better stick with the one that we know the problem exists in at hight levels!" Thats real bright.

    Kahuna Burger

  • Eyes are a great example of evolution in action, TOT. There's all sorts of types of eyes around. Worms have very simple light-sensitive cells on their body - these are your "proto-eyes". They'll let it determine orientation and relative light and shade, best guess is so that it knows how at risk it is on the surface (all fishermen know that the best time to dig for worms is at night or early in the morning, when they're near the surface). Other invertebrates (eg. hydras) have better eyes, which allow them to act as filter feeders - their "eyes" aren't much, but are sufficiently fast at seeing light and dark to determine that there's something close in front of them, so they can try and grab it.

    Scale up, and up, and up. Each time an improvement occurs, it opens up a new area of specialisation. Insects (usually prey) have developed lots of low-resolution eyes for good all-round vision and threat detection, and that trades of accuracy of vision against view angle. Lizards and mammals (generally predators, or at least opportunistic omnivores) developed 2 good eyes which give better forward vision but a big blank spot behind. When lizards died out and mammals started filling their niches, some mammals became herbivores (and hence prey). They developed eyes more on the side of their heads with a wider field of view, trading off forward perception against threat detection again.

    In eyes, humans (and mammals in general) are far from the peak - birds such as eagles can see vast distances with pin-point accuracy, which allows them to fly high and scan the ground from a height. If you can still see your prey from a height, then you may as well stay high whilst hunting bcos you can see more ground. So flying high for long periods makes soaring a naturally effective strategy for hunting larger ground creatures (eg. rabbits), which makes birds with wide-spread wings more effective (eg. eagles and buzzards). For hunting other birds, a swept-back wing gives greater speed and manoevrability for diving on them (eg. falcons). And so on, and so on. The basic improvement in eyes allowed a hunting strategy of staying high and diving on things; different wing shapes made them better at hunting specific types of prey.

    Grab.
  • A couple of weeks ago, my local paper (the Gainesville Sun) had an article on a judge who researched technical issues on his own time (sorry, the story does not seem to be online). ie., he consulted friends of his and read books on technical (or non-technical) subjects that he didn't understand. Well, to make a long story short, he's facing suspension and disbarrment. Why? Evidently, the judges are only supposed to listen to what is said in the courtroom-that is to be their sole source of information. The judge was previously warned about his behaivor, but continues to do it anyway.

    Just thought it might be an interesting aside on the face of justice these days....

  • How are AAAS members selected? What do we know about their expertise or their interests? AAAS gets so much power since they will be trusted by judges and judges will rely on AAAS members' opinions. Who willcontrol AAAS?

    Membership in AAAS is largely merit-based: members are usually senior scientists who have a long record of distinguished research. Nominees are elected in a process that is similar to the peer review process for publishing scientific papers. In other words these people are as "expert" as you can get. Also, the society is largely symbolic; their only agenda is getting more funding for research. Also, it sounds like some sort of screening process will be in place.

    The biggest challenge will still be getting the jury to truly understand the scientific concepts that are being presented. Ignorance of these principles can indeed lead to miscarriages of justice; just ask OJ.

  • by Speare (84249) on Wednesday February 21, 2001 @05:37AM (#414602) Homepage Journal

    In a true libertarian government, the judicial system would only have the ability to sentance[sic] people accused of crimes

    I think I prefer our system where the judicial system first tries the case, then if found guilty, sentences crime committers.

"There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them" - Heisenberg

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