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Science and Law – Part 2

April 28, 2007

-Read part 0 here

-Read part 1 here

Law Enforcement Science
It’s impossible to completely dismiss the possibility of human error. Some mistakes are easy to detect and correct, others are almost impossible to find. Mistakes can result from pressure, insufficient quality control mechanisms, fraud, etc.

Through the act of “normalization of deviance“, people anticipate on common problems and compensate them without starting all over again, which would be costly and time-consuming. Visibility of a high profile case can lead to cover-ups because of fear of public opinion (e.g., a mistake is made, but due to high public pressure the mistake is never admitted).
Also, even in the scientific community, researchers “seduced by the lure of success” are able to make up results, and it may take quite some time before the “organized skepticism” works as it should have. Examples are the various claims that AIDS can be cured, cloning embryonic stemcells, cold fusion, etc. But this fraud is not limited to the scientific community; fabricating evidence (e.g. by law officers) is something that can be done easily, even subconsciously. For example, when comparing two fingerprints, it’s easy to say that the two prints match even if they don’t, just because the need for a suspect. The need for “organized skepticism” is enormous, especially when someone’s life is at stake.
Jasanoff expresses it beautifully: “When the purpose is to free a presumably innocent, wrongfully convicted prisoner, forensic scientists have every incentive to produce the most reliable and persuasive results within their power. By contrast, when the purpose is to convict the guilty, extraordinary pressures may exist to produce results that will satisfy the prosecutor’s and the public’s desire for speedy convictions.

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2 comments

  1. […] 30th, 2007 by nullify -Read part 0 here – -Read part 1 here – -Read part 2 here […]


  2. … pfoeh – zeker nog een hoop ellende al die nette index-backlinks naar je artikelen…? Respect ;p



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