One of Britain's most eminent paediatricians, Professor Sir Roy Meadow, gave "erroneous" and "misleading" evidence in the trial of a solicitor, Sally Clark, who was found guilty of murdering her two sons, but later cleared, the General Medical Council ruled.
Sir Roy, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, failed in his duty as an expert witness to explain the limited relevance of his findings, a GMC fitness-to-practise panel said yesterday, when he told Mrs Clark's trial the chance of two babies dying of cot death within an affluent family was "one in 73 million".
Mrs Clark was arrested in 1998 over the deaths of her sons Christopher and Harry, and in November 1999, after Sir Roy had testified against her, she given two life sentences for their murder. But in January 2003, she had her convictions quashed on appeal, with the judges criticising Sir Roy's evidence.
The depth of scientific tradition of respect for numbers and derision for words was reflected in the intensity of hostile reaction to my ideas by some of the prominent members of the scientific elite. In commenting on my first exposition of a linguistic variable in 1972, Rudolph Kalman had this to say:
I would like to comment briefly on Professor Zadeh's presentation. His proposals could be severely, ferociously, even brutally criticized from a technical point of view. This would be out of place here. But a blunt question remains: Is Professor Zadeh presenting important ideas or is he indulging in wishful thinking? No doubt Professor Zadeh's enthusiasm for fuzziness has been reinforced by the prevailing climate in the U.S. -- one of unprecedented permissiveness. "Fuzzification" is a kind of scientific permissiveness; it tends to result in socially appealing slogans unaccompanied by the discipline of hard scientific work and patient observation.
In a similar vein, my esteemed colleague Professor William Kahn -- a man with a brilliant mind -- offered this assessment in 1975:
"Fuzzy theory is wrong, wrong, and pernicious," says William Kahan, a professor of computer sciences and mathematics at Cal whose Evans Hall office is a few doors from Zadeh's. "I can not think of any problem that could not be solved better by ordinary logic." What we need is more logical thinking, not less. The danger of fuzzy theory is that it will encourage the sort of imprecise thinking that has brought us so much trouble."
What Lord Kelvin, Rudolph Kalman, and many other brilliant minds did not appreciate is the fundamental importance of the remarkable human capability to perform a wide variety of physical and mental tasks without any measurements and any computations. Familiar example of such tasks are parking a car; driving in heavy traffic; playing golf; understanding speech and summarizing a story.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
The Ability of Enlightened People to Ignore Evidence of Totalitarianism and Barbarism
"[T]hough nothing is left of Marxism as scientific prediction (that is, nothing left of its substantive claim to attention), there remains the vague notion that it for the first time opened up various historical perspectives--or some such rather vaguer pretension. But it can easily be shown that those who accepted this were proved completely mistaken about almost everything that has happened within the past century.
"There seems little point in going through the argument--if only because ... the holders of certain opinions, at a certain level of conviction, are both argument-proof and fact-proof, as was the case with their grandparents in the USSR. It is, unfortunately, only too easy to show that many of the then intelligentsia in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere were deceived into accepting and supporting a huge fabric of lies. The Soviet Union, despite its horrors, remained acceptable or even praiseworthy, until Kruschev's 'secret speech' of February 1956, and even after that with some.
"But how was it possible? The truth ... was available in scores or hundreds of firsthand accounts. It was clear, too, that foreign correspondents were not admitted to vast areas from which hostile evidence was available. It might even have been thought consequential that dozens of the highest leadership under Stalin simply ceased to be mentioned. The census figures, even as given in 1939, after the public denunciation of a 1937 census as the work of enemy agents, must have been seen as inexplicably low (though in fact even the 1939 census was exaggerated by some three million). Where had the still-missing millions cited seven or eight years earlier got to? And so on, and so on. There were even Westerners who believed that Trotsky was an agent of Hitler. In the second section of this book, we examine the Communist order and all the falsifications that took in the Webbs--not only the Webbs, but a whole mob of others, and this in spite not only of a mass of contrary evidence but even of apparently direct observation. They would often reject these data as irrelevant, and excuse them as, at the worst, superficial defects of a regime heading in the right direction. The USSR also managed to Potemkinize its future--which no evidence, or sense data, could refute."
Robert Conquest, The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History 50-51 (W.W. Norton & Co., 2005).
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Professor Peter Tillers
"I have practiced a little bit of law -- I worked as a litigator, once in California and once in Texas -- but for most of my professional life I have studied and taught law.
In the early part of my academic career I dabbled in philosophy, particularly the philosophies of Kant and Hegel. But as I matured, I came to my senses. This explains why during the last 15 years I have devoted much more attention to evidence, inference, and proof in litigation than to German Idealism and similar matters. However, I did not succeed in completely obliterating the influence of philosophy and epistemology on my thinking. Thus, in my effort to understand and explain the process of proof in litigation, I have devoted a great deal of attention to matters such as probability theory and theories of evidence, inference, induction, and proof.
Peter Tillers is Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University. He revised volumes 1 &1A of Wigmore on Evidence (1983) and is the author of Probability and Inference in the Law of Evidence (1988; with E. Green).