Neil deGrasse Tyson and Eyewitness Testimony


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I started following Neil deGrasse Tyson a few weeks ago on Twitter, probably because he said something funny about the belief in God. I’ve respected the guy ever since I saw him on some old Nova documentaries and now I think I respect him even more after some of his recent tweets.

Tweet #1 Dec 4:
Serving Jury Duty this week. Criminal Court, Manhattan. I wonder if they will pick me.

Innocent enough.

Tweet #2 Dec 4:
Last time, defendant was accused of selling 3000milligrams of cocaine. I told the Judge it was just 3grams. Was then sent home

Holy crap! 3000 milligrams of coke! That guy’s a monster! He must have a whole cocaine warehouse…

Tweet #3 Dec4:
FYI: Three thousand milligrams is about the weight of a penny. More tweets to come — in at least a few billion nanoseconds.

oh wait… three grams… well that’s not so much. Why do you think the judge would want it labeled as 3000 milligrams instead of the more concise 3 grams? Well, because he’s attempting to manipulate the jury’s and the public’s opinion. Does this seem honest to you, even though they are not technically lying?

Tweet # 4 Dec 5:
Things you might say if you flunked Astro101: “I’m not in control of my life. The stars and planets are.”

Um… okay, this has nothing to do with this post… but it’s a pretty true statement. It’s kind of a scary idea that someone on a jury might literally look at your zodiac sign to help make their decision, but I have known people who I think would do this.

Tweet #5 Dec 5:
Done with Jury Duty. I said I could not convict a person solely on eyewitness testimony. They sent me home. I’m now 0 for 4.

Now this is the tweet that made me write this post. This is something that I’ve been saying for years but it seems difficult for me to find people who recognize what a serious issue this is. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The true stories in the right column of this website are many of the events that defined my life, and yet when I was writing them I found it difficult to piece together exactly what happened, even though I knew the overall story and how it affected me. If you were to talk to the other characters in any of these stories, they would no doubt have notably different accounts, particularly when it comes to the emotions of the situations, despite the fact that I wrote these almost as accurately as I could. This is just one of the drawbacks of being human. This is why I feel it’s unreliable and therefore immoral to rely on anything other than a solid scientific set of evidence or a straight-up confession when convicting someone and sending them to prison. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system doesn’t agree with me.

…and he’s 0 for 4? That means four times he’s been dismissed as a juror? Is a world-famous physicist not smart enough for jury duty? A scientist like Neil deGrasse Tyson is not going to be fair and impartial enough? Does anyone have a link to the judge’s tweets explaining this?

Tweet #6 Dec 5:
After hearing my skepticism of eyewitness testimony, six other jury candidates promptly agreed. And they got sent home too.

Our system doesn’t look favorably on logic.

Tweet #7 Dec 6:
Eye Witness Testimony: High evidence to the Courts. Warped evidence to the Psychologist. Low evidence to the Physicist.

Word.

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