Chart of the day

Pew ran a cool “18 striking findings from 2018” a few weeks ago.  Lots of cool findings, here, but given how prominent religion is in America, I found this chart on the nature of Americans’ belief in God particularly interesting:

Nine-in-ten Americans believe in a higher powerbut just a slim majority (56%) believes in God as described in the Bible. Belief in a higher power is even common among religious “nones,” or those who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” Meanwhile, about half (48%) of U.S. adults say that God or another higher power directly determines what happens in their lives all or most of the time, and three-quarters say they try to talk to God or another higher power


Bad science ruins live

When it’s bad forensic science, which, of course, is not actually science.  It as absolutely appalling situation that our criminal justice allows totally a-scientific forensic “science” to still regularly put the wrong people behind bars.  This great NYT piece focuses on a women convicted by “blood spatter” evidence.  Of course, there’s not actually a rigorous scientific understanding behind blood spatter patterns.  Just a lot of “experts” who pretend there is.  What’s absolutely nuts is that we somehow still use stuff like this in court cases:

A year before Rea’s exoneration, the National Academy of Sciences had released a report that called into doubt the reliability of bloodstain-pattern analysis. Practitioners’ conclusions were often “more subjective than scientific” and open to “context bias,” the 2009 report said.

“Some experts extrapolate far beyond what can be supported,” it said. And it cautioned, “The uncertainties associated with bloodstain-pattern analysis are enormous.”

The report criticized a wide range of forensic disciplines, including the analysis of hairs, fibers, bite marks and shoe and tire impressions. Its authors found that many of these disciplines were not grounded in hard data and extensive, peer-reviewed research, but instead relied on practitioners’ personal interpretations. “The law’s greatest dilemma in its heavy reliance on forensic evidence,” it stated, “concerns the question of whether — and to what extent — there is science in any given forensic science discipline.”

The report called for sweeping reform. Yet nearly a decade later, little has changed. In the field of bloodstain-pattern analysis, rigorous research that might determine the accuracy of analysts’ findings is scant. Bite-mark analysis — which, in 2016, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology declared had no scientific validity — is still admitted in criminal prosecutions. So, too, is microscopic hair comparison, an outmoded and dangerously flawed technique that has, to date, led to the convictions of 75 people who were later exonerated by DNA testing.

Julie Rea was eventually acquitted and exonerated of the murder of her 10-year old son based on this junk science.  Unsurprisingly, though, life does not just return to normal.

Instead, at the time of her acquittal, Rea was still reeling — not only from her son’s violent death and two criminal prosecutions, but from the trauma of incarceration. She is reluctant to discuss the physical and emotional abuse she endured during the nearly four years she spent behind bars except to say that she was reviled by both inmates and guards. “What I had supposedly done was considered to be the one unforgivable sin,” she said.

Despite her acquittal, she soon discovered that she had to keep living under the weight of suspicion. Prosecutors in the case still spoke of her like a criminal. Edwin Parkinson, the lead prosecutor in her case, told reporters, “The jury found her not guilty; they did not find her innocent.” Parkinson did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s long past time for our society’s lust for vengeance and retribution to demand punishment to the point where we pervert false science in the hopes of conviction.  Of course we should punish guilty people for their crimes, but it, in theory, we let guilty people go free to protect the innocent.  Except we seem to eager to punish the potentially innocent lest a guilty person go free.

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