Evidence is complex. Much of the time, in science, or fighting the bad guys, it’s what we don’t have. I forget the number of noughts, but last time I looked, we only ever prove E = MC2 in practical experiments to nought point several noughts four. There’s even room to doubt this famous equation, one of many conservation laws. In thought, everything can fly. In the life we are thinking in, we are chained in biology. The Kantian sublime, at least in crude form. My friend Francis Hunt the Former Mad Monk will know of which I speak. He writes better essays than me – the ‘evidence’ is on his site. Francis will take no umbrage at my description of him, ‘Friend’ will do, the rest perhaps a joke we might have shared, in times we did not, when we both drank too much.
I read essays at the London Review of Books, which you can get as a Google Gadget. I read Francis too, when he has time to write, and is not nursing. I thought of doing this (nursing) when I realised academe had sunk into corruption. The thought was to do some practical good, but my body is too weak for such real work now. If I say Francis writes better essays than I find in the London Review, I mean it. You could read both – there is ‘evidence’ to decide. It might be friendship that makes me saw this, and is in part. There is ‘colour’ in objectivity.
‘Banksie’, who writes good stuff too (Banksidebabble), along with many others blogging, reminds me a lot of my better mature students. I work as a journeyman now, and often find a lot of light repressed under the heavy bushel of standard teaching, now often performed by staff with no knowledge beyond the textbooks they plod out. I assume talent and am not that often disappointed. It might surprise Shijuro that I find much of the banality and ‘ordure’ of being a modern cop in his writing, sensing almost a novel.
My best mate, the same age, found himself in one of my business classes years ago due to disability. Discovering I’d one been a scientist, said it must be really awful to end up teaching business shit. He’s run his own engineering business and knew what he was talking about. He’s teaching now and no textbooks get near his classes either. I’d have left full-time academe before I did if he hadn’t shown up, perhaps from similar feelings as Shijuro sometimes raises as a cop coming up to pension. Ex-cops (with longer service than me) usually do well in higher education. They know something of evidence and have been writing bollox up for ages! There are many similarities between a major enquiry and a PhD, the first being much more difficult. I once upset a valued academic colleague, saying she would make a good detective.
Academics imagine they have very high standards on evidence. Few do. Tiny numbers, as a percentage, really do any science, or even understand just how much changes once you can really mess about with ‘variables’. When we hear that the Earth is warming by a couple of degrees, we think this is like turning up the fire a notch. What do we make of liquid helium running uphill as absolute zero approaches? Or of Lorentz transformations not being maintained in graphene at low temperatures? Most of us should answer ‘not much’, and have not been exposed to the shock of such education. We don’t really know how much devastation a hydrogen bomb, carried in a box by a couple of blokes, could really cause, or how many we have made and how we can estimate that.
We may all imagine that science is esoteric and this doesn’t matter in our daily lives. Einstein would just be another jury member, like the rest of us in deciding whether Mark Andrews was guilty of assault, I might have been more likely to get in the rugby team than him if we went to the same school and the like; he was better at physics than me and so on. In the pub, we imagine we could pick a better soccer team than the England manager. We imagine, if on a jury, we’d do the right thing by the evidence. The Nico Bento jury didn’t. In fact, studies show juries are wrong about one time in ten, both ways, on the evidence, assuming it gets into court (loads of academic studies I can’t fault on method and which passed exacting peer review). The Clive Ponting jury was ‘wrong’, though I’m glad they showed such sense (he was the bloke who revealed the Belgrano was sailing the other way).
I don’t even think Einstein was particularly bright, though he’d have left me in his wake, certainly on charm and with the ladies. Newton and Galileo had been on the track of Relativity and Maxwell had come up with spell-binding equations that brilliant experimenters were showing didn’t quite tally. You could do most of these experiments in the kitchen and they were about in ‘O’ level physics, even if most people weren’t. My old mate Fido even knew we were reading ground with giants then, though I just learned the maths. Pollen grains, water, Relativity – too much for my small brain then. My first explanation of the great theory came from Fidd, in a cave we used to hide in on particularly wet and cold school cross-counties. These days, I just think Albert realised you could trust the experimenters and Maxwell, so something else had to be wrong. So he changed something common to both (kinematics), and exercise in deconstruction. If our old PE teacher is reading and picking up his cane, I should say I’m using dramatic licence. We were in the cave, but it was in a summer break. We were far too scared of him to cheat on cross-country, and he will remember both of us won it from time to time. Our catch phrase from the time was from Monty Python – ‘intercourse the penguin’. Fidd became a marine biologist. I hope the dolphins like him.
The detective may say, ‘we need evidence, everything else is just piss and wind’. Our courts claim to rely on evidence, but this is not the case. Judges are no more than law students who can mark their own work, at least until a greater judge gets it on appeal. Juries are staffed with people who we wouldn’t trust to judge evidence in any professional field. Eye-witness testimony is given by people with no trained skills in it, even, generally, the cops. We know evidence from eye-witnesses is unreliable. We let some people give expert evidence, though this often turns out to be unreliable too, even if they are real experts rather than con-men (some of the checks have been really specious) or varieties of the strawmen who used to stand outside courts, prepared to give evidence for the highest bidder.
I’m aware, of course, that all I need to disprove big bang theory and Relativity, is a particle collider the size of several galaxies. I’m aware too, you aren’t going to believe me until this is built and we have a few months of results. One might say much the same on our CJS. We’d get much better results if we built a new one, but have to put up with the existing shabby one, or we’d have disastrous anarchy. The difference is that we could rebuild the CJS, smaller, cheaper, better. Cameron will have me as an advisor if I keep this up!
We can’t, of course, get evidence from my super-galactic particle collider. Scientists are making do with what we have. There is a current speculation that there is a ‘universe mass back hole’ at the edge of this universe, sucking it in. The amazing 19th century experiments that physics is really based on, could be done in a large kitchen. Nobel finally stabilized nitro-glycerine on a boat on the Elbe. Darwin produced this amazingly accurate theory from evidence I still find hard to spot after years of training. The practice needed to spot what is really there under the microscope is hard and you need plenty of it. I never got good and you wouldn’t want me doing your smear test.
It’s well-established now that theory and evidence spin together, even in science, perhaps especially in science. The evidence used in science was there long before we had science. We just couldn’t use it or even see a lot of it. The evidence in science was often around long before we could make proper use of it.
We had our grandson (13) and a couple of his mates staying over on Saturday night, wanting to go for a walk to the 24hr shop after 11 p.m. My partner was asleep, and European legislation forbids clips round the ear for cheek. So I took them for a drive to a garage with a Tesco, going through town so they could catch a glimpse of Saturday Night Fever on the booze-mile. They found drunken women particularly amusing. The garage is on the edge of the red-light district, and as we arrived a prostitute was flashed by an approaching car and picked up. She was ordinarily dressed, but it was obvious to my eye.
I pointed out the ‘transaction’ to the lads, and a couple of other ladies lurking in a side-street. My lad pointed out they could just be innocent girls waiting for a lift. I asked who the 60 year old ex-cop was and his mates giggled. My lad pointed out I’m 57. He was entirely right and no doubt wrong. I filled up and followed them into the shop, dressed even more scruffily than usual. The kids take longer over sweets than the average woman in a dress-shop. We attracted a lot of ‘shoplifting’ attention. God, the security guard was big. No doubt the prices included the need for his presence. I wondered if I’d have seen me and my crew as a shoplifting threat, and concluded I would have. On the way home, my lad said, ‘I knew they were prostitutes, one of them was that druggie neighbour you used to have, the one whose house police were always at’. Observant lad; his irony quotient must have moved up while I wasn’t looking.
Evidence is very difficult to get a grip on. I’d agree with Banksie that we should let courts sit in judgement on legal matters, pretty much because we have to accept some authority (Hobbes argues well on something like this), and perhaps because the public would still be burning witches. One can get the wrong result in binding arbitration, but be obliged to accept it. I do agree we have to take what our courts say until we can change them, but I also think they have to be changed, and got out from under the legal profession. Like Gadget, I don’t want a bunch of tribal chieftains from the Swamp imposed on us either.
Courts have rules on what can be given as evidence and these vary a lot round the world and through history. The word testimony springs from our long reverence of the glorious Roman history handed-down on us by the Roman Catholic Church. That’s the church whose Pope has just allowed the use of condoms for gay male prostitutes or some such and is still trying to hide its child-abuse. In Rome, only men could give evidence and you had to hang on to your balls to do so – hence testimony. The ‘evidence’ laid down to us on the Romans is almost entirely false. Civilisation happened elsewhere, they just plundered it. Hearing that the Royal Navy was engaged in Opium Wars in the 19th century as a boy, I imagined our brave lads battling away against drug tyrants. How wrong I was. We were still hanging nine year old kids back then for stealing bread – worse in a way, judges were still prognosticating on the moral efficacy of this.
Not too long ago, our courts were convicting entirely innocent Irish people on faked evidence, with ‘objective’ judges prognosticating on appalling vistas of a corrupt legal system that no sane person would believe, that turned out to be true. In Nico Bento, our courts prevented evidence from reliable, official forensics people, and allowed a loony strawman to convince the jury not to believe its eyes on CCTV footage. Forensic experts, mostly technically trained, are being shown (whole-scale) to plump for interpretations that convict when the evidence isn’t there (New Scientist, not ‘Pinko Review’). Judges could keep up with a little light reading, but aren’t doing it.
When we look at miscarriages of justice, we apply a false statistical grid. To do the work properly, we’d have to look at those cases where a miscarriage was likely, not everything going through court. Some of the cases are so easy, we’d get them right after the Xmas party – most based on my recent visits to courts. Deeper questions on whether we have other forms of legal miscarriage concern whether we are even processing much that needs to go to court – anti-social behaviour is probably bigger than ‘crime’ and includes people like the Pilkingtons, Cochranes and Askews (all dead).
On jury service a couple of years ago, one ‘woman’ told me she didn’t like the defendant and was sure he’d done it because she was a great judge of character. I was about to ask for some other reasons (they elected me foreman), but she burst out crying. My ‘why’ was misinterpreted and she said it was because her rabbit had died and her boyfriend had left her after stealing her bank deposits. I looked at her wondering that if she was such a great judge of character, she might have dinner with me (no, not really). Police had repeatedly referred to a vehicle as a van when it was a car in evidence and lied about what they could actually see from where they claimed to be. Only one other person had noticed, certainly not the defence barrister or judge. He got 6 years – I’d have given him 10. ‘Evidence’? Don’t worry too much about that, he was guilty. Made the mistake of having three of us threatened.
Evidence might just be how we build a legal system we do trust. If courts genuinely put the evidence into the public domain we could base our trust on that. Why leave us with the scraps and the yellow press? Judges need independence because otherwise they might do what powerful interests and government want. But they do, don’t they? It’s what the academic evidence says.
I don’t proof read – too much like my work. I assume, in the above, a ‘universe mass back hole’ may be a reasonable metaphor, but sucks!