Here comes the (cyber) judge
- — 04 December, 1998 21:49
"He's guilty! You know it, I know it. Why don't those idiots on TV know it?"
Does this sound familiar? Plug in the recent suspect or legal case of your choice and you've probably heard (or said) similar words more often than you'd like. But now you can get science on your side of the argument.
Probability scientist Martin Miles, president of Convex Systems, has bundled a series of mathematical formulas into his CourtLogic program. The software is available free for the downloading from his company's Web site, The Evidence Channel (http://www.EvidenceChannel.com/).
CourtLogic will help you absolutely, positively, scientifically determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect or the value of a piece of evidence -- well, to a certain level of confidence, anyway. Probability theory, widely used in business and government, still boils down to guesswork. It's a very high-powered guess to a very high level of confidence, but a guess all the same.
Still, if you're a fan of Judge Judy or The People's Court, or you have been alternately thrilled and outraged by the goings-on in celebrity court cases of recent years, you can have fun following along with this easy-to-use program and Web site.
CourtLogic systematically sifts each piece of evidence, assigning each a probability of truth or falsehood -- a threshold of proof, if you will. The software then applies mathematical formulas to these individual probabilities to derive an overall conclusion of the probability that a suspect is guilty (or, as Judge Judy would put it, whether the plaintiff or defendant is "right"). You then compare that number to the level of confidence that you previously decided you needed to draw a conclusion, which is usually anywhere from 51 per cent to 99 per cent.
The process is all very left-brain, which stands in stark contrast to the intuitive way most jurors reach conclusions, says Miles. CourtLogic integrates left- and right-brain ways of thinking and solves another common problem: keeping all those minor decisions straight.
"Even with only two items of evidence, the average person has trouble putting those two different probabilities together," says Miles. "This keeps track of my individual decisions on each item of evidence. The formulas involve so much calculation that you really need a computer for them."
The Evidence Channel isn't just for us couch potatoes. Convex Systems markets a $US395 FactLogic version to lawyers, private investigators, and other types of government and private-sector sleuths. Convex also operates a $US95-a-week chat room on its site, which lets two or more investigators use the FactLogic methodology to consider a case.
Just for fun (or aggravation), you can drop in on the Web site and sift the evidence available for celebrated legal events like the O.J. Simpson trial, JonBenet Ramsey murder case, or Clinton impeachment hearings.
If you spend any time at The Evidence Channel, you're going to learn a lot about probability theory -- and maybe something about thinking in a straight line.