Apr 21 Fri-22 Sat Evidence: An Interdisciplinary Conversation about Knowing and Certainty Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall, Room 103

A Conference on Data Which One Hopes Will Not Ignore Theoretical Problems


Bad Evidence Convicts Many

In a conference offering a rich trove of academic treasure for seekers of truths about how data can be used and misused in the new information society, the Saturday keynote by evidence scholar Jennifer Mnookin stood out as the crowning jewel for its revealing strictures on the status quo, as the Law Professor and Dean of the UCLA School of Law and currently a dominant expert on the quality of forensic science and expert testimony held forth on the parlous state of evidence analysis and expert testimony in criminal law courts across the land, where DNA evidence is really the only area properly validated by science, and that only after initial problems were solved by revision, and bullet tracing, hair analysis, fingerprints, handwriting and other proofs given in testimony by so called “experts” or the FBI are in fact still fundamentally subjective and as yet unbacked by scientific analysis and review, so that typical claims of their expertise being informed by experience of even thousands of cases are contrary to reason and without scientific validation through empirical testing, yet these false proofs are presented by prosecutors and accepted by judges and routinely result in convictions without justification, resulting in possibly hundreds of thousands of people in jail for years who may well be innocent, just as 20,000 drug convictions are to be cancelled in Massachusetts after authorities found in 2013 that lab tests were never carried out by a chemist on whom the courts had relied for years, all pointing to a dire state of disrepair in our justice system which has been revealed by two major reports in the last few years, a highly critical National Research Council report on the state of the forensic sciences in 2009, and the last one in September 2016 for Obama, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology or PCAST report (Mnoonin was co-chair), which have met only contradiction and resistance by expert witnesses with their livelihoods at stake and other vested interests including overburdened and insufficiently responsible judges, not to mention the bureaucracy of the Department of Justice which not only fought their conclusions with disparagement and claims of studies overlooked which have proved unable to be located, but now with the ascendance of Trump and Jeff Sessions as the head of the Department, the commission has been ended and all scientific review and recommendations of revision of evidence standards has been cancelled, as if they were an unacceptable burden on normal business, though when asked after her illuminating and detailed presentation how all the error could be corrected if she were substituted for Sessions, Dean Mnookin replied that the great need was for the Department of Justice to do exactly the opposite and undertake intensive examination of all such proofs offered by expert witnesses to see how their procedures matched scientific research, and found one questioner congratulating her that “ethically, you are doing a wonderful thing!”.

Evidence: An Interdisciplinary Conversation about Knowing and Certainty
April 21-22, 2017
Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall, Room 103
435 West 116th Street
New York City

This event features a Keynote address from World Poker Champion Annie Duke – The Paradox of Evidence: Lessons from the Poker Table. Separate registration is required for this event.

The conference will bring together academic scholars and scientists, public policy makers, non-governmental advocates, and media experts to discuss the state of “evidence” today. Our goal is to examine the use of evidence – from massive data sets to individual case studies – within and across the disciplines. What counts as evidence in different fields? Why do some disciplines have explicit and broadly-shared norms of evidence gathering and use, while other disciplines are guided by more implicit evidentiary customs? Why do evidentiary norms change over time in a given discipline, and are these changes better explained by internal, theoretical developments or external, social factors? What happens when new theories outpace a discipline’s current evidentiary practices? For instance, the recognition that many accurate descriptions of the universe are not deterministic but rather probabilistic has altered natural scientists’ basic conception about what counts as evidence – and about the sheer quantity of evidence needed to prove or disprove hypotheses. Yet even the most advanced tools for evidence-gathering (statistical, computational, and experimental) have not kept pace with this turn to probabilistic models in the natural sciences. Meanwhile, scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and law are adopting – or transforming – these same tools in an effort to expand the evidence base, rigor of proof, and public appeal of their disciplines (e.g., “big” history, “distant reading,” digital humanities, quantitative sociology, experimental philosophy, law and cognition).

The conference will examine the use of evidence – from massive data sets to individual case studies – within and across the disciplines. What counts as evidence in different fields? Why do some disciplines have explicit and broadly-shared norms of evidence gathering and use, while other disciplines are guided by more implicit evidentiary customs? Why do evidentiary norms change over time in a given discipline, and are these changes better explained by internal, theoretical developments or external, social factors?

What happens when new theories outpace a discipline’s current evidentiary practices? For instance, the recognition that many accurate descriptions of the universe are not deterministic but rather probabilistic has altered natural scientists’ basic conception about what counts as evidence – and about the sheer quantity of evidence needed to prove or disprove hypotheses. Yet even the most advanced tools for evidence-gathering (statistical, computational, and experimental) have not kept pace with this turn to probabilistic models in the natural sciences.

Meanwhile, scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and law are adopting – or transforming – these same tools in an effort to expand the evidence base, rigor of proof, and public appeal of their disciplines (e.g., “big” history, “distant reading,” digital humanities, quantitative sociology, experimental philosophy, law and cognition).

Format:

The conference will bring together academic scholars, public policy makers, non-governmental advocates, and media experts to discuss the state of “evidence” today.

In addition to two keynote lectures, the conference will include twelve hour-long panels over the course of two days. Each panel has been organized around two primary speakers, representing a particular discipline or sub-discipline, and two to three panelists with contrasting disciplinary backgrounds.

Each of the two primary speakers will offer ten minutes of introductory remarks about evidentiary problems they have encountered in their particular area of expertise, raising practical and theoretical questions about the uses of evidence they have encountered in their own work, and referring to specific case studies.

Twenty minutes of discussion among speakers and panelists will follow. After the introductory remarks and panel discussion, the floor will be opened to the audience.

Organizers: Pamela Smith (History, Columbia), Stuart Firestein (Biology, Columbia), Jeremy Kessler (Law, Columbia)
Sponsored by: The Center for Science and Society (CSS) and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) at Columbia University
Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall
435 W 116th Street, Room 103
http://scienceandsociety.columbia.edu/cssevent/evidence-interdisciplinary-conversation-knowing-certainty/

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