Beware of certainty

An interesting point about expertise and epistemology and how they interact in courtrooms.

The evolving science that surrounds DNA, for example, demands caution and careful interpretation, while the criminal law and our adversarial system expects a simple explanation – often nothing better than a “yes” or “no” answer. So the hired expert who presents his data with certainty and determination is more likely to win over a jury than the more hesitant doctor, scientist or expert who is prepared to acknowledge doubt. That’s why Gene Morrison was able to bamboozle the courts for as long as he did – not because he had a fake PhD (after all, even TV diet experts have those), but because he presented what he had to say with certainty and conviction and the scrutiny of the science behind what he said was never robustly questioned either by the defence or by the prosecution.

Beware of certainty; be especially ware of people who make claims with certainty; be triply ware of people who make claims with certainty in areas where certainty is not possible.

2 Responses to “Beware of certainty”