Witness

Melbury's Brick

Senior Member.
Much conspiracy theory relies on the testimony of witnesses and, if it fits, presenting their words as totally truthful and accurate. This is to ignore the fact that most of us are useless at accurate recall and equally poor at correctly assessing that which we are seeing and hearing.
As a demonstation of how easily we are fooled, ask your friends this question.......


How many of each species of animal did Moses take on to the Ark?


I've used this many times and it confounds many people that you ask. (I fared no better, being completely taken in when first I heard it.)
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Two and fourteen, because there's no evidence that Moses was not Noah.

Seriously though I don't think that's a good example of the accuracy of witnesses, as the vast majority of witness testimony is about recalling what they saw, not spotting trick questions.
 

Melbury's Brick

Senior Member.
Two and fourteen, because there's no evidence that Moses was not Noah.

Seriously though I don't think that's a good example of the accuracy of witnesses, as the vast majority of witness testimony is about recalling what they saw, not spotting trick questions.

I wasn't really angling for answers.....it's a bit of an old chestnut. Many, I suppose would answer "none", on the basis that there is scant evidence for the existence of the Ark. (The question is effective verbally but not so much in text).

However, I disagree that the "trick" question is not representative of the human's propensity for poor recall of events. If we can mistake "Moses" for "Noah" because of the innoccuous presence of a query about animal numbers, are we really equipped to remember how many shots were fired? Or what was the colour of the assailant's shirt? Or how fast was the car travelling?


http://agora.stanford.edu/sjls/Issue One/fisher&tversky.htm

 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I wasn't really angling for answers.....it's a bit of an old chestnut. Many, I suppose would answer "none", on the basis that there is scant evidence for the existence of the Ark. (The question is effective verbally but not so much in text).

However, I disagree that the "trick" question is not representative of the human's propensity for poor recall of events. If we can mistake "Moses" for "Noah" because of the innoccuous presence of a query about animal numbers, are we really equipped to remember how many shots were fired? Or what was the colour of the assailant's shirt? Or how fast was the car travelling?

My point is that it's an entirely different mental process. So not being good at one thing does not necessarily mean your will not be good at another thing. It's like dismissing an eye witness because they can't pat their head and rub circles on their belly at the same time.

Base it on recall, not trick question spotting.
 

Cairenn

Senior Member.
I do not trust eyewitness reports with details, especially with IDing folks. I am white and I have major problems in accurately IDing folks that are not white. I don't think this is any type of racism, I think it is just that the clues we learn to use, like hair and eye color, hair type and such tend to be 'white' traits. The more subtle things we are not used to looking for.

I have shown dogs in the past. My puppy, would be IDed as a lab, by most folks (as long you didn't see his tongue---it is spotted). I can easily see the non lab traits in him. His ears are set on wrong, his tail is set on too high and he carries it wrong. The tail indicates to me, some type of a dog with a shorter tail that carries it over their back. The ear set indicates a breed with prick ears. Even without seeing his tongue, chow would be considered as part of his gene pool.

One needs to look at the specialty knowledge a witness might have. The average person will recognize a mini van, the cat salesman might well know the make and year range of it and color.

Our ability to be a 'good' eye witness is limited and improved by our knowledge base.
 

Melbury's Brick

Senior Member.
My point is that it's an entirely different mental process. So not being good at one thing does not necessarily mean your will not be good at another thing. It's like dismissing an eye witness because they can't pat their head and rub circles on their belly at the same time.

Base it on recall, not trick question spotting.
It's not just about recall. If the observation is flawed in the first instance, recall cannot necessarily correct it.

As an example......In the recent Woolwich incident, it's claimed that one or more witnesses (it's interesting that one witness often turns into "witnesses said...") claimed that police officers took 20 minutes to arrive. The actual response time was 9 minutes, according to a Scotland Yard spokesman. That's an error to the tune of more than 100%.


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/art...9-calls-claims-armed-officers-14-minutes.html


Although the trick question was no more than a taster for this subject, it does serve as an example as to how easily we are distracted. I maintain that overall, we are poor observers in chaotic moments and the errors of the witness are compounded by the those with an agenda adding their own "twist" to the evidence.

Does James Stewart still think that he shot Liberty Valance?!!
 

Melbury's Brick

Senior Member.
I do not trust eyewitness reports with details, especially with IDing folks. I am white and I have major problems in accurately IDing folks that are not white. I don't think this is any type of racism, I think it is just that the clues we learn to use, like hair and eye color, hair type and such tend to be 'white' traits. The more subtle things we are not used to looking for.

I have shown dogs in the past. My puppy, would be IDed as a lab, by most folks (as long you didn't see his tongue---it is spotted). I can easily see the non lab traits in him. His ears are set on wrong, his tail is set on too high and he carries it wrong. The tail indicates to me, some type of a dog with a shorter tail that carries it over their back. The ear set indicates a breed with prick ears. Even without seeing his tongue, chow would be considered as part of his gene pool.

One needs to look at the specialty knowledge a witness might have. The average person will recognize a mini van, the cat salesman might well know the make and year range of it and color.

Our ability to be a 'good' eye witness is limited and improved by our knowledge base.
I base this "poor witness" theory on the average Joe who has little or no specialist knowledge regarding the incident to which he is party. However, a desire to appear knowledgeable may be a further contributor to inaccurate information.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Although the trick question was no more than a taster for this subject, it does serve as an example as to how easily we are distracted. I maintain that overall, we are poor observers in chaotic moments and the errors of the witness are compounded by the those with an agenda adding their own "twist" to the evidence.

I don't disagree with the basic idea that people are very poor observers, and terrible at accurate recall. I just don't think the Ark question illustrates this. I think it illustrates a related phenomena - cognitive illusions. It's deliberately set up to trick the mind into think it's reading one thing, when it's reading something else.

Of course cognitive illusions can arise in normal circumstances, and we need to be aware of them in assessing testimony. But it's a more specific point than the "people are bad observers". It's a good illustration of why sometimes people make mistakes - priming and observer expectations.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Here's one I like:

Count the number of times the letter "F" occurs in the following text:

[h=2]FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTI
FIC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.[/h]

It varies by individual (and probably by if you are a native english speaker), but I remember coming close to anger when someone insisted that there were six, and then feeling rather confused when I realized he was right.
 

Belfrey

Senior Member.
Here's one I like:

Count the number of times the letter "F" occurs in the following text:

FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTI
FIC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.




It varies by individual (and probably by if you are a native english speaker), but I remember coming close to anger when someone insisted that there were six, and then feeling rather confused when I realized he was right.

Wow, amazing - it took me about 5 runs through to get it - and then only when I tried looking through backwards. That's a nice example of how we filter out what we consider to be extraneous information.
 

David Fraser

Senior Member.
It's not just about recall. If the observation is flawed in the first instance, recall cannot necessarily correct it.

As an example......In the recent Woolwich incident, it's claimed that one or more witnesses (it's interesting that one witness often turns into "witnesses said...") claimed that police officers took 20 minutes to arrive. The actual response time was 9 minutes, according to a Scotland Yard spokesman. That's an error to the tune of more than 100%.


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/art...9-calls-claims-armed-officers-14-minutes.html


Although the trick question was no more than a taster for this subject, it does serve as an example as to how easily we are distracted. I maintain that overall, we are poor observers in chaotic moments and the errors of the witness are compounded by the those with an agenda adding their own "twist" to the evidence.

Does James Stewart still think that he shot Liberty Valance?!!

I base this "poor witness" theory on the average Joe who has little or no specialist knowledge regarding the incident to which he is party. However, a desire to appear knowledgeable may be a further contributor to inaccurate information.

Valid points and witness bias is the main reason we have cross examination in the criminal justice system. However I tend to believe that people are, in general, good observers and it is usually the circumstances when asked to recall that distort memory. It is a highly skilled interrogator that can get a statement without bias. As to passing inaccurate information in an attempt to seem more knowledgeable. I am more inclined to say a person will interpret what they have seen in a different manner rather than passing inaccurate information. I spent a number of years working as a psychiatric nurse and one of the main roles is that of observation and more importantly recording those observations. It was extremely difficult to record the observations in a neutral manner without giving some sort of interpretation. However the skill lay in presenting what you saw and heard so others could have unbiased information. More recently I had been working as a counsellor and that is a nightmare when trying to get a client to recall events. It is so easy to lead the client along a path that you may see as relevant but you have to let the client work through the narrative in their own time (which can take weeks or months). Usually a witness is under pressure to recall information over a short time span. To me that is the flaw in witness reliability,
 
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