Beware of unquestioned certainty; avoid the counsel of the man with no doubts.
Illustration: DNA evidence is infallible, right? The unquestioned Gold Standard of Proof?
Case #1: The DNA of Lukis Anderson was found on Raveesh Kumera, a murdered millionaire investor whose body was found blindfolded, tied, and gagged inside his ransacked mansion outside San Jose, California. Lukis Anderson was arrested and spent 5 months in jail before finally being released. Why was he released? Because Lukis had an ironclad alibi: he had spent the night of the murder at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, suffering from severe intoxication (okay, so Lukis was not the model citizen). Police eventually found out that the same paramedics who transported Lukis to the hospital also responded to the crime murder scene creating the possibility of transference of the DNA.
Case #2: In another infamous case of crime scene contamination, German police spent years searching for a serial killer whose DNA was linked to six murders only to find out that the suspect came from the DNA of a worker in the factory that made the cotton swabs that were used in the investigation. (“High Tech, High Risk Forensics” by Osagie K. Obasogie, Professor of Law at University of California as published in The New York Times, July 25, 2013, p. A23)
Another example where false sense of certainty comes from is a misuse of statistics. Several years ago, a British woman was convicted of smothering her child. The main evidence? Virtually the only evidence? It was her second child to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome where a sleeping infant suffocates. The prosecutor’s case rested upon the statistical improbability of such an event. The conviction was overturned on appeal when the scientific community came to her defense: While flipping a coin and series of heads is improbable, the odds every time remain 50/50 no matter how many heads have been flipped in a row before. The death of her prior child was not probative of cause of the second and should not have been even been entered into evidence.
“We crave the counsel of the confident but fools have no doubt while wise men are often uncertain.”
“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too” — “If” by Rudyard Kipling; 1865–1936, recipient of the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature