Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stubborn beliefs and the elusive truth

On how we let our beliefs get in the way of the facts, and on how contrary facts merely entrench our preconceived beliefs, see this article from the Boston Globe, 11 July 2010, "How facts backfire" by Joe Keohane. 

While that article is not concerned with forensic fact finding, it does have fundamental implications for trial procedure.

The article mentions research that indicates that persuasion requires an adjustment of the other person's (fact-finder's) belief about the issue, not by presenting facts that threaten the person by putting them in the position of being wrong, but by interactively presenting evidence that directly confronts preconceived beliefs. To lawyers this implies that jurors or fact-finding judges should be able to question witnesses directly. Another suggestion is that increasing the "reputational cost" of error could discourage people from adhering to false beliefs. This could be done by making jurors answerable for their decisions, for example by exposing them to media questioning after their verdicts.

Current practice could hardly be more different. Our trial procedure may discourage accurate fact finding.