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January 25, 2004

Follow-up of "More Medical Experts"

A month ago David B posted More Medical Experts, which detailed the problems with one famous doctor who gave overblown testimony that has distorted the legal process. A friend tried to post a reply, but the "8 day period of posting" has expired, so I have cut & pasted his response below (must read if you hate a certain profession)....

A warning not to treat doctors as infallible or to treat medical or
other experts as always right doesn't go far enough. The real scandal of the criminal trials in which Meadow's evidence was critical is that the
legal profession - solicitors, barristers, prosecution and defence and judges - are all so poorly educated or lacking in elementary logical ability and independence of mind that they could not use the rudiments of statistical probability to question Meadow's gross but persuasive fallacy.

Apparently hundreds of parents of children who died of unexplained causes were given no proper protection by cross-examination of the phoney expert or by the calling of competent statisticians or biologists to give corrective evidence. I get the impression that one might do better - or worse - in America. If one had enough money for a full blooded defence you would have a good chance that your lawyers would find almost every intellectual hole in the prosecutions case and attack it.

One wonders what the average lawyer would say if you took him to a
two-up game where the spectators bet against the coin tosser on whether the two coins come up odd or even heads or even tails. You hand the coin tosser two coins to toss and twenty times running the coins fall as two tails. Would the lawyer conclude, as the juries in England were effectually invited to, that the coin tosser was cheating? Or would he at least speculate that you might have handed him coins which had tails on both sides? You shouldn't have to be a biologist to wonder whether the genetic lottery or some other common factor was often to blame for unexplained infant deaths.

I am, in a representative capacity, defending a case which, as I conceive
it, involves a good deal of actuarial type reasoning. Fortunately I am
able to call on the kind of counsel that wouldn't have been available
in Australia when I began practice myself over 40 years ago. E.g. a
former nuclear physicist, fellow of an Oxbridge college, turned to the law and now a leader of the Australian intellectual property bar. Curiously the English bar and bench used to have a good sprinkling of Oxford and
Cambridge mathematics graduates in the late 19th and early 20th


Posted by razib at 01:46 PM