William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Wednesday, 28, July, 2010

Dog in the Fight.

Filed under: Forensics,Politics — williamthecoroner @ 20:49

In 1956, Alan Mortiz wrote a paper mentioning several classical mistakes made by forensic pathologists. The text is here. But THIS paper reminded me of the Moritz article. The authors reviewed articles over the past 50 years, and counted the number of authoritan statments in them, such as “Science reveals we must…” Key graf.

If science wants to redeem itself and regain its place with the public’s affection, scientists need to come out every time some politician says, “The science says we must…” and reply, “Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.” If they say that often enough, and loudly enough, they might be able to reclaim the mantle of objectivity that they’ve given up over the last 40 years by letting themselves become the regulatory state’s ultimate appeal to authority

Now, the grammar nazi in me wants the authors to use the word scientists instead of science. Science does nothing by itself.

This is very similar to Mortiz’ mistaking the objective with the subjective portions of the autopsy protocol. One thing that was drilled into me in training as a forensic pathologist was that the pathologist “does not have a dog in the fight.” I don’t care what the result of a trial is. My job is to testify and present my information as clearly as possible. It is my job to explain my interpretation of that information. What the jury does with the information is up to them. I AM NOT AN ADVOCATE.

The jury may interpret my findings differently. That’s their job. If an objective scientist becomes an advocate, he is not objective–he is a partisan. By definition a partisan is not an objective witness, and his audience must judge his statements in light of his bias. Once experts start arguing for one side or another because of bias, they lose credibility and authority.

Give it a read.

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