The Wildlings Army

Non Game of Thrones fans can just stop here, but heck, I figure most of my readers probably are GOT fans.  Anyway, one thing about this past week’s episode really annoyed me.  The whole idea that the Wildling Army numbered 100,000.  I’m not going to complain about dragons, Valererian Steel, or what have you, but damn it, this is just entirely realistic.  George RR Martin has said that the setting is largely based on medieval England and one thing that sure has hell did not exist in medieval times was 100,000 man armies.  Furthermore, if we know anything about the Wildlings they live in an incredibly resource-poor area– look at that awful weather and all that damn snow and ice.  Surely, a vast majority of the adults need to be working in some form of food production just to keep anybody fed.  In order to have the specialization of a huge army you need to have enough productive resources to feed that army even though the army is busy fighting instead of producing food.  Just no way is that happening north of the wall.  I did this mini-rant for a friend, who said, “but Steve, it’s fiction.”  Yeah, sure, but one of the reasons it is such great fiction is that Martin really looks to the complexities of actual life (dragons, etc.,) aside to guide his fiction.  He clearly dropped the ball here.

Forensic science is neither

Okay, it is actually forensic (just couldn’t resist that title), but DNA aside, it sure isn’t science.  Bite marks, ballistics, hair analysis, fire patterns, blood spatter– you name it– it’s only pretend science.  Real science is based upon the scientific method and trying to rule out alternative hypotheses for explaining a particular set of events or phenomenon.  Forensic science is far too often based on finding evidence for a particular theory that suits prosecutors.  The depressing thing about all this is that we know how much of this is truly junk, but blithely continue to pretend otherwise.  Great article on the matter in Slate this week:

How could forensic evidence, widely seen as factual and unbiased, nearly send an innocent person to his death? The answer is profoundly disturbing—and suggests that for every Earl Washington freed, untold more are sent to their deaths. Far from an infallible science, forensics is a decades-long experiment in which undertrained lab workers jettison the scientific method in favor of speedy results that fit prosecutors’ hunches. No one knows exactly how many people have been wrongly imprisoned—or executed—due to flawed forensics. But the number, most experts agree, is horrifyingly high. The most respected scientific organization in the country has revealed how deeply, fundamentally unscientific forensics is. A complete overhaul of our evidence analysis is desperately needed. Without it, the number of falsely convicted will only keep growing.

There’s been sadly numerous cases where convictions based on junk science where later over-turned due to the real science of DNA.  Sadly, think of all the innocent people rotting in prison due to junk science because there was no DNA evidence available in there cases.  And, the use of bad science continues:

Given the flimsy foundation upon which the field of forensics is based, you might wonder why judges still allow it into the courtroom. The rather depressing answer is a combination of ignorance and laziness. In 1993, the Supreme Court announced a new test, dubbed the “Daubert standard,” to help federal judges determine what scientific evidence is reliable enough to be introduced at trial. The Daubert standard was meant to separate the judicial process from the quest for scientific truths—but it wound up frustrating judges and scientists alike. As one dissenter griped, the new test essentially turned judges into “amateur scientists,” forced to sift through competing theories to determine what is truly scientific and what is not…

Faced with this unenviable chore, most judges have simply trusted prosecutors not to introduce anything that wouldn’t roughly fit the Daubert standard. The conventional wisdom is that, if a prosecutor introduces any truly egregious pseudoscience, the defense can introduce its own expert to refute it or can undermine it through aggressive questioning. It’s a comforting idea: Presented with conflicting scientific findings, jurors will sift out the truth.

Unfortunately, it is also entirely false. American jurors today expect a constant parade of forensic evidence during trials. They also refuse to believe that this evidence might ever be faulty. Lawyers call this the CSI effect, after the popular procedural that portrays forensics as the ultimate truth in crime investigation.

The whole matter is really quite depressing.  There is so much injustice in our criminal justice system that doesn’t have to be there.  I accept human error and that people will make mistakes.  That’s life.  We don’t need to compound this with systematically bad approaches to criminal justice when there are clear ways to doing it better.

Great, great Frontline on the topic which you can watch it its entirely on-line (perfect weekend viewing!)



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