On the subject of evidence and opinions

The conflict in Ukraine and the downing of Flight MH17 is covered by 24/7 attention in media and online platforms. The amount of information coming through all channels in an incredible pace is overwhelming. Opinions and interpretations are formed and shared with the speed of light, presented under the cover of information and evidence. In all this, it becomes difficult to identify truth, facts and fiction.

Most concerning is the amount of unsubstantiated opinions which are presented as facts and evidence, and are carried by crowds of online users and mass media. If that would not be enough, there is a growing amount of fabricated hoaxes which are mixed in with information.

Here are some simple facts about evidence:

  • Evidence that a suspect has the capability to commit a crime does not provide evidence that the suspect committed the crime.
  • Evidence that a suspect has a possible motive to commit a crime does not provide evidence that the suspect committed the crime.
  • Evidence that a suspect was at the scene of the crime at the moment of the crime does not provide evidence that the subject committed the crime, unless evidence is available the the subject and only the subject was at the scene of the crime at the moment of the crime.
  • The above do however substantiate the suspicion of committing the crime and the need to continue to treat the suspect as suspect.
  • Eyewitness testimony is not direct evidence, neither in confirming that the suspect committed the crime, nor in denying that the suspect committed the crime. Eyewitnesses can of course be influenced up to being paid to testify.Honest eyewitnesses can be influenced by their own believes, by information by others, by fear and most of all by time. The longer the time frame between the event and the testimony is, the higher the risk that the memories of the eyewitness have been influenced by external information and personal considerations of the eyewitness.
  • Pictures and videos are not direct evidence. The first challenge is to confirm that these were made at the time and location of which they are stated to be made. The next challenge is to determine if these have not been manipulated. And thirdly, quality, angle, range, etc. of the picture or video can have influence on the information provided.

There is a schoolbook example of laymen’s logic versus expert logic. The group of students is shown a video in which a victim is shot in the head, jerks forward and directly sharp backward. 100% success rate that the students, allowed to repeat this sequence as many times as they want, come to the conclusion that there must have been a shot from the back and a shot from the front. The logical explanation is the movements of the victim. Forward by the thrust of the bullet hitting the victim from the back, followed by a backward movement caused by the thrust of the second bullet hitting the victim from the front.

Enters the forensic expert. There is only 1 shot, hitting the victim in the head from the back. The bullet destroys the neural cortex causing a last overwhelming neural pulse throughout the body. This neural pulse causes several reactions in the body, include all muscles to contract. The muscles in the back of a human being are significantly stronger than the muscles in the front. The result is that in a final reflex the victim sharply moves backward before collapsing.

Lesson learned: what one thinks to be seeing is not always what happened!

Please be careful with accepting evidence as evidence, no matter how logic it may sound. Whatever one thinks to be seeing on a picture, it doesn’t mean that this is what actually happened. Some evidence becomes logic after accepting that all prior logic was wrong.

Kind regards,

Pavel

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