from the world's big
Time to End Eyewitness Testimony?
"The accuracy of our memories is not measured in how vivid they are nor how certain you are that they're correct."
This article originally appeared in the Newton blog on RealClearScience. You can read the original here.
The courtroom is hushed.
A teenage boy has been slain, riddled with bullets during a drive-by shooting, and there, on the witness stand, is his crying mother. She's understandably weeping, wracked by the senseless killing of her darling son. Even worse, she witnessed it all.
"Ma'am, is the man who murdered your son present here today?" the prosecutor questions.
Through the tears, streaming freely, their flow rekindled from having to relive and recount such a horrible event, she manages a nod.
"Can you point him out for us?"
A pause, followed by emphatic pointing at the defendant.
"That's the man! He killed my baby!"
Eyewitness testimony has been a central facet of the American judicial system for centuries. Spirited, dramatic exchanges between attorney and witness are what draw us to courtroom dramas and news stories about pretty women who murder their boyfriends.
There's scant evidence more damning than the sworn statement of a bereaved mother who firmly asserts the guilt of the defendant, especially if such evidence is corroborated by other eyewitnesses.
But eyewitness testimony is merely the product of human memory, and decades of scientific evidence have demonstrated that memory is glaringly fallible.
"All our memories are reconstructed memories," forensic psychologist Scott Fraser explained at TEDxUSC last May. "They are the product of what we originally experienced and everything that's happened afterwards. They're dynamic. They're malleable. They're volatile..."
And they can easily be corrupted. According to Fraser:
"Under the best of observation conditions, the absolute best, we only detect, encode and store in our brains bits and pieces of the entire experience in front of us... So now, when it's important for us to be able to recall what it was that we experienced, we have an incomplete [memory], and what happens? ...The brain fills in information that was not there, not originally stored, from inference, from speculation, from sources of information that came to you, as the observer, after the observation. But it happens without awareness such that you... aren't even cognizant of it occurring."
Since 1992, The Innocence Project has exonerated 306 innocent individuals who were mistakenly convicted of a crime. In three-quarters of these cases, incorrect eyewitness testimony sent those people to prison, by far and away the most common reason. What's startling is that in the vast majority of these cases, witnesses weren't lying. They profoundly and genuinely believed that the people they accused were the perpetrators of the crimes.
This can happen for a lot of reasons. For one, crimes are often emotional and traumatic experiences, and such emotion can have a marked effect on memory. In a study published in February, University of Texas psychologists found that subjects who viewed a video of a mugging were able to recall the event and describe the perpetrator more vividly than subjects who simply watched a video of a conversation, providing more details and ascribing more certainty to their descriptions.
However, in a second experiment, the researchers found that vividness did not correlate with accurate recall. Subjects who witnessed the crime were less able than subjects who watched a conversation to recognize the people involved from a photographic lineup.
False memories can also arise throughout the judicial process. Investigators can easily influence -- intentionally or unintentionally -- the memory of eyewitnesses. Rudimentary verbal or nonverbal affirmations can cause witnesses to become surer of their memories. Suggestive questions by prosecutors can lead to the emergence of novel, erroneous details in witnesses' memories, and cause witnesses to "recall" events that may have never actually happened.
The key, Fraser reminds us, is to be cautious. "The accuracy of our memories is not measured in how vivid they are nor how certain you are that they're correct," he said.
But we can do more than simply be vigilant of our memory's shortcomings. Given its fallibility, one could go so far as to argue that limits should be placed on eyewitness testimony. Perhaps it should be restricted in cases where forensic analysts can determine that vision was hindered, such as in crowds or at night? Maybe more than one eyewitness should be required for such testimony to be allowed in court? Maybe eyewitness accounts should be disallowed altogether in capital trials?
One simple action that can be taken is to mandate double-blind lineups in police stations. This means that the investigator conducting a photo or live lineup will not be aware of who the suspect is. That way, he or she won't be able to influence the witness, knowingly or unknowingly.
We would also be wise to follow New Jersey's example. There, judges are now required to inform juries that "certain factors about an eyewitness's circumstances at time of the offense could render the testimony less reliable. Those factors include the stress the eyewitness was under, the duration of the event, lighting, distance, the eyewitness's focus on a weapon, and cross-racial identification."
Such a basic reminder is undeniably warranted. In a 2011 nationwide survey of 1,838 individuals, 37.1% of respondents were found to believe that "the testimony of one confident eyewitness should be enough evidence to convict a defendant of a crime."
Such thinking is clearly faulty. The truth is not what somebody believes it to be, no matter how adamantly they swear it to be so. Our court system must be insulated from the fallibility of memory.
(Image: Swearing in a Witness via Shutterstock)
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Men take longer to clear COVID-19 from their systems; a male-only coronavirus repository may be why.
- A new study found that women clear coronavirus from their systems much faster than men.
- The researchers hypothesize that high concentrations of ACE2-expressing cells in the testes may store more coronavirus.
- There are many confounding factors to this mystery—some genetic, others social and behavioral.
Where is coronavirus hiding?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE1NTgxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODY4NzkxMX0.D84W6ZUOhv6Q-Ki7ddiF3zmDLK_Z6vuXtzfB9R8zLAA/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C179%2C0%2C180&height=700" id="1cc38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b4e083fb45357e1fb56a8571e8cdc553" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A laboratory technician at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, holds a container of test-tube samples from people tested for novel coronavirus.
Further research required<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="z9vH49bb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="7ef1ab8ca2f90b28543d580c408ed25f"> <div id="botr_z9vH49bb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/z9vH49bb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/z9vH49bb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/z9vH49bb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The Montefiore-Einstein study is currently preliminary, and further research will be required before researchers can determine what, if anything, its results illuminate.</p><p>The study is currently published on <em>Medrxiv</em>, a <a href="https://www.aje.com/arc/benefits-of-preprints-for-researchers/" target="_blank">preprint</a> distributor. This means the study has been shared publicly before undergoing the <a href="https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/howscienceworks_16" target="_blank">peer-review process</a>.</p><p>Preprints allow researchers to communicate their findings before official publication, which can take months if not a year or longer. This pre-publication can lead to early feedback, increased visibility, and new collaborations. It's especially helpful for <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6400415/" target="_blank">early-career researchers</a> trying to establish themselves.</p><p>However, given the speed at which coronavirus is spreading, researchers have leaned on preprints as a means of disseminating data to other experts faster than the peer review allows. As a result, <em>Medrixiv</em> has seen a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/science/coronavirus-disinformation.html" target="_blank">surge of preprint studies</a>, but they must be read within the context of their preliminary status.</p><p>The Montefiore-Einstein also has its limitations. The study had an initial sample size of only 68 subjects (48 males, 20 females) and a further examination of three families. And the connection of coronavirus to ACE2 enzymes in the testes came from database research, not direct observation.</p><p>The researchers acknowledge the need for further investigation. In particular, Shastri stresses the need to confirm the coronavirus's ability to infect and multiply in testicular tissue. If other researchers find their data promising, they could move forward with new research to build upon the study and see if this clue fits into the mystery.</p>
One clue among many<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE1NTc5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTQ3NjEzMX0.G-p4KniVRhsHXoIOyFfzEARdN5nGXWWkkQa85x6_ooM/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C281%2C0%2C298&height=700" id="d50c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="938d51b21df264aae5e883e5f1f9c894" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Coronavirus protesters in Los Angeles. Men are more likely than women to disregard health warnings from officials.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.