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What is the Problem with Statistical Evidence in Law?

What is the Problem with Statistical Evidence in Law?
91 Charles Street West, Victoria College room 323
Time: Nov 27th, 4:00 pm End: Nov 27th, 6:00 pm
Interest Categories: Science/Technology, Philosophy (UTSC), Philosophy (UTM), Philosophy (FAS), Law, Faculty of , History & Philosophy of Science & Technology (FAS), Ethics, 2000-
Lecture by Alex Broadbent, University of Johannesburg

The Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology is pleased to present:

Alex Broadbent, Philosophy, University of Johannesburg

What is the Problem with Statistical Evidence in Law?

There is considerable jurisprudential literature on the use of statistical evidence in legal cases. In general, the law deplores the use of “naked” statistics to prove facts about individuals, be they persons or events. There are well-known imaginary examples of patently unjust consequences that would follow (especially due to Jonathan Cohen), and well-known actual cases where the use or misuse of statistical evidence has led to miscarriages of justice. However, the exact reason for resistance to use of statistical evidence is hard to pin down. In this paper I ask what, if any, epistemic problems there are with using “naked” statistics. I suggest that some of the perceived difficulties stem from a failure to distinguish between different uses to which evidence may be put. In particular, I suggest that proving identity and proving causation are importantly different. Another source of confusion is the comparison often drawn in the literature between statistical and eye-witness evidence. I suggest that in fact it is testimony, and not statistical evidence, that is the special case. Setting these distractions aside, I seek to locate the nub of the continued lawyerly resistance to relying on statistical evidence. I propose that is best analyzed as a commitment to the epistemological notion of sensitivity, especially associated with Robert Nozick. I argue that the intuitions supporting sensitivity as a condition on knowledge also support the resistance to the use of statistical evidence in law. In doing so I seek to delimit the cases where lawyerly resistance is inconsistent – where, in other words, the law should admit statistical evidence.

Alex Broadbent’s research interests lie in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of science broadly construed. Much of Alex’s work concerns philosophical problems posed by causation. Alex thinks that, at least sometimes, the way we answer questions in metaphysics can have practical consequences; and conversely, that practical problems can give rise to philosophical problems which might otherwise go unnoticed. Seeking to dentify points of contact between conceptual and practical spheres is a guiding principle of Alex’s research. As well as his work in metaphysics, Alex has philosophical interests in the science of epidemiology (which is concerned with public health), and in the philosophy of law. He is currently working on a project to establish Philosophy of Epidemiology as a subdiscipline within the philosophy of science. You can access Alex's blog on the philosophy of epidemiology at http://philosepi.wordpress.com. He is also a member of the International Philosophy of Medicine Roundtable, and edits a Philosophy of Epidemiology section in the journal Preventive Medicine.

This event is free and open to the public.  Registration is not required.  For further information, please contact the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at (416) 978-5397.


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