Thursday, April 21, 2011

Personal feelings and the expert witness

I've expressed the statement before of course that the role of the expert witness is to be objective and speak for the science, but no matter how often I've said that, I'm constantly encountering the attitude that it is a personal thing. As if feelings have some sort of place in science. Remember the "There's no crying in baseball!" it's the same thing, there's no emotion in science.

Compare evolution and creationism. Evolution is based on observations in nature, experiments carried out in the lab, and fossil evidence. Creationism is based on feelings. As a scientist I have to look at the evidence and see that the evidence for evolution far, far outweighs the "feelings" of creationism. I'm obviously not in the minority there and that's because that is what science is about.

When an experiment is carried out, the goal of a scientist and all scientific procedure is to disprove the theory, not to prove it. That's a huge distinction and one that is crucial to scientific understanding. Whether I want my theory to be true or not, doesn't matter. At least not to any credible scientist.

Most of my work involves DUI and let me tell you, my personal feelings play no part. Why? Because it's not my job. It's not my job to argue the case, it's not my job to make the decisions. I am not the fact finder. That is a wonderfully freeing thing and I'm not sure why people resist that. My only job is to explain the science and see if everything is working properly. If it is, I say so. If it isn't, I say so. How I "feel" doesn't matter.

Pointing out a problem is not a personal attack. It is the role of the scientist to look at the data and base your opinion on the data, not on what you want the outcome to be. And that's what I always strive to do. The only difference in being an expert witness is that you have to express it in layman's terms so that the non-science community can understand it and make their own decisions.

I've worked for both the prosecution and the defense. I've been thanked by parents who have lost a child to an impaired driver. I've seen people facing the loss of their pension over a mistake. It's not a simple thing.

Thankfully, it's not my job to have feelings about it and any "scientist" that puts their emotions before the data is no scientist at all. I'm human. I'm not cold. I do have feelings of course, but they don't matter. My job is to explain the science, and that's what I do.

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