I don’t practise now, but miss the kind of certainty and control of lab experiments and work with data provided by scientific colleagues. I never experienced anything like this as a cop, manager or business academic. There is little to rely on in most of our social and organisational settings, not even much motivation towards finding out what is really going on or happened. The dark world of Bacon’s Idols shrouds most social interaction. “Objectivity” is sorely misunderstood and generally a matter of pretence. I can tell you a great deal about the chemical properties of lead carbonate or how to make a bomb with urine with great precision, yet very little on whether Crippen was really guilty, as opposed to found so through police investigation and court procedures.
Every now and then, science throws up techniques that are very useful in social analysis. DNA profiling is one, though there are already examples of its abuse by prosecutions. I believe all our DNA profiles should be on record. Interestingly, some of us fear this would be abused by authorities, though at the same time accept evidence produced in court by these same authorities. DNA has also been used to show quite a few people convicted could not have done the crimes our systems had so thoroughly established they had. Reliable stats show juries are wrong in about one in ten cases (both ways).
One of the reasons we can’t apply scientific levels of evidence and proof to social issues is that those facts that could be established are hidden from us. Quite a few of us think Blair is a war criminal and won’t be put off by the obvious white-wash enquiries on offer – not because we won’t listen to evidence and argument, but because it is so obvious the enquiries aren’t investigating in any real sense. If we offer opinion on whether someone in particular is guilty of Jo Yeates’ killing, we do so without the facts currently know only to a small number of police officers, prosecutors and, of course, the killer and any accomplices. The fuss in the media is something irrelevant and which we could have done without.
What I find dispiriting in our media coverage of news and current affairs is how useless it all is in helping change anything for the better. It isn’t geared for this at all. I had hoped by now that we would have genuine alternatives to the rot on our main channels, because air time is so cheap it can be used to make profits from selling crap jewellery and fitness wonders. I hoped there might be a market for facts, education and sensible argument and speculation to replace newspapers. Somewhere social science could be done in the open.
What we get instead of open public scrutiny, is “promises” – promises to learn lessons and all the other lying jive of 10-day MBA-speak that should lead to instant dismissal not promotion. The same jokers can now promise to learn the lessons they promised to learn after making the same mistake year on year. One of the reasons I’d like to see miscarriages of justice open to public scrutiny is that I think they might show us the mechanisms through which power is abused more widely in society and how the same kinds of mistake repeat again and again. Yet even in this area where one could expect records to be well kept, we actually learn little of what actually happened.
My own suspicion is that we have fools working in systems that aren’t fool-proofed, and are teaching people to focus on what gets assessed from an early age, not on genuine education and honesty. The Bamber case should be in the open in detail, but somehow still had to be heard by judges who made their decision yesterday, but in some cruel twist aren’t letting on until they have written-up. I don’t know whether Bamber is a psychopath or a dreadful victim of a duff investigation and prosecution. Given the way our public bodies cover-up and are found wanting when anyone independent gets in for a look, I want to be able to know, for what facts there are to be available. I can get closer to very deadly knowledge than what we might expect to be freely available material on whether I live in a free and fair society or not.