Re: [asa] forensic science and wrongful convictions

From: Bill Hamilton <>
Date: Tue Sep 12 2006 - 14:34:50 EDT

--- David Opderbeck <> wrote:

> This is a very interesting point, which bears on my thoughts about all
> this: the issue isn't really (or shouldn't be) whether we label some type
> of historical investigation as "science" or not; the issue is one of
> epistemology. A colleague of mine has published extensively on the question
> of forensic evidence and the burden of proof in criminal cases (see his
> online vita here:
> His
> articles on the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard in criminal cases are
> pertinent here.
> I don't see how there can be any reasonable dispute about the fact that
> non-repeatable historical events can be known with substantially less
> certainty than repeatable events that are subject to laboratory
> controls. But, we send people to the gallows based on what really is a
> relatively low degree of certainty concerning non-repeatable historical
> events. Despite the fact that we call it "beyond a reasonable doubt," in
> many criminal cases where there is a conviction, some degree of doubt isn't
> unreasonable at all.
> So, I continue to think that whether we call this or that "science" is
> mostly posturing by both sides. IMHO, the real issue is what counts as a
> warranted belief and the degrees of certainty with which warranted beliefs
> can be held.
Pardon my looking at this as a communications engineer (I'm not one, but I'm
familiar with, and have used the methodology). Let's take the example of a
historian trying to reconstruct an event that occurred 2000 years ago. The
historian will review accounts from different sources and correlate them,
taking account of the reliability of each account, to arrive at a rendition he
can accept as accurate (or at least as accurate as he can make it) The
communications engineer is faced with a similar problem: he receives a signal
corrupted by noise. He applies various filters aand perhaps some knowledge of
thee encoding scheme (if present) used to encode the signal to arrive at a (it
is to be hoped) accurate copy of the signal that was transmitted. In both cases
considerable logic is applied to tease out the underlying "signal".

Bill Hamilton
William E. Hamilton, Jr., Ph.D.
248.652.4148 (home) 248.821.8156 (mobile)
"...If God is for us, who is against us?" Rom 8:31

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Received on Tue Sep 12 14:35:16 2006

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