Essential Eyewitness Testimony is Highly Reliable Despite What SSkeptics Claim
Social Skeptics regularly celebrate 1980’s psychology studies which they inexpertly believe afford them the luxury of dismissing eyewitness testimony as an unreliable form of evidence. Through the equivocation of regarding all observations as equal under the moniker of ‘eyewitness testimony’ SSkeptics can manipulate the process of science observation to their liking. But not all types of eyewitness testimony are created equal; nor are they regarded as such in the cited studies. There exists a difference between circumstantial and non-critical descriptive observations, and those observations of immediate schematic essence. Through a one-liner laden misunderstanding of the oft touted Loftus study, bad science and amateur law, SSkeptics actively seek to block entire domains of observational data from being afforded entry into the body of science.
The dismissal of data a priori for any reason of conjecture is pseudoscience. Moreover, not all types of eyewitness testimony are easily dismissible, despite the facade of authority spun through context-less snippets phrase-lifted from cool sounding psychology studies. The dismissal of Essential Eyewitness Testimony through psychological conjecture constitutes scientific fraud in the manipulation of observations which otherwise could establish analytical bases or necessity under the scientific method.
There are several types of evidence regarded as material to an issue of fact, varying in reliability depending on the source, medium, mode and form. The Laws of Evidence govern the use of testimony, which is typically delivered in the form of direct evidence exhibits (e.g., biological, DNA, fingerprint, or other physical media), documentary material (e.g., account activity, phone calls, travel, physical media), or other demonstrative evidence, which is material to an issue of fact. An additional rule of evidence pertains generally to Scots law, the rule of corroboration used in criminal law, which requires that two or more pieces of evidence, stand as first basis to establish an essential fact. Contrary to what amateurs contend, Scots law thresholds do not constitute ‘proof’ of an issue of fact; however such an attainment stands as senior evidence, until stronger evidence supplants the Scots’ basis.
One of the material evidences regarded as valid under Scots law, is Eyewitness Testimony. In general, assembled from the Federal Rules of Evidence (Federal Rules of Evidence, 2014; Federal Evidence Review, Arlington, VA; VII. Rules Regarding Opinions and Expert Testimony), there exist six types of Eyewitness Testimony (listed below in order of increasing material relevance regarding a specific issue of fact), which may or may not qualify as material to a case of dispute:
The Six Types of Eyewitness Testimony (Federal Rules of Evidence, 2014)
- Essential Schemata
(The woman in the photo to the right is witnessing Essential Schemata. She may forget how much money she had in her wallet at the time, or she may forget what she had for lunch that day or what objects were in the backseat of the car. She will not forget however, that there was a car collision, nor that the car was on fire and passengers were in the car; no matter how much time elapses, nor how many people tell her otherwise. As well, her recall of anything relevant inside the schema of the whole event, will be crystal clear)
Social Skeptics, equivocate between types 3. Circumstantial and 4. Descriptive eyewitness testimony, which can be unreliable in certain circumstances, and apply this doubt to matters of 6. Essential Schema (see Yuille Study¹ below) testimony. This is an invalid application of psychology and legal principle.
Recent Psychology Study Shows Essential Eyewitness Testimony as Being Highly Reliable
One recent psychology study in the Journal of Applied Psychology demonstrated that immediate witnesses of a real life incident maintain remarkably accurate memories of a stressful first hand event.¹ Eyewitness recall of essential elements of data which form a schema of memory, the essence of context and fact inside a recall structure, concerning what occurred in a stressful event, whether individual or in a group, was shown by the study to be extraordinarily accurate. In the study itself, police interviewed witnesses, all of whom were re-interviewed five months later concerning the same incident and same recall features. The group recall was found to be schematically accurate, even after a long period of time had elapsed, and despite the introduction of two misleading questions inserted by the research team in the follow up questioning.¹
Matters of eyewitness testimony establishing essential schema are typically very reliable. Opinions may differ as to the eye color of the assailant or even at times his identity; but the fact that a man came in and robbed a store, is typically indisputable.
In fact, a recent study by John T. Wixted (University of California, San Diego) and Gary L. Wells (Iowa State University), leading researchers in the field of eyewitness memory, cited that dismissal of eyewitness testimony has been a grave mistake in trend inside judicial practices. Ironically, the report was endorsed by none other than Elizabeth Loftus herself:
“The purpose of our article is to explain why a blanket disregard for eyewitness confidence is not only at odds with what has been learned in recent years but can also contribute to both the wrongful conviction of innocent suspects and the unwarranted removal from suspicion of a guilty suspect,” the researchers write.
The report is accompanied by commentaries from several notable experts, including Senior Circuit Judge Andre M. Davis of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and renowned memory researcher Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine. The report and commentaries are published together in Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI), a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.” †
By regarding, through a priori conjecture and misapplied psychology, the whole incident of a store robbery in the above example, to constitute fiction through unreliable testimony, SSkeptics commit the pseudo-scientific fraud of observational data dismissal. This is a destructive trend, which even former supporters have begun to rethink in our most recent science on the issue.
Essential Schema – an organized structure of thought and perception that interleaves information frameworks by the relationships among key data. A mental framework of epistemological or preconceived ideas, representing some aspect of the world, concept of learning, system or event. It can be utilized as a system of organizing, perceiving and retaining new information. Schemata influence attention and the efficacy of absorption/retention of new knowledge. People are more likely to notice and retain data which fit into their schema. Essential Schemata have a tendency to remain unchanged, even in the face of contradictory information and the passage of time.
A Misapplied Study
Much ado is made of a series of studies from 1978 through 1989 in which Elizabeth Loftus cited the unreliability of eyewitness memories in situations where time has elapsed or bias inducing information has been introduced to the witness in the meantime. In the study which stemmed from a 1978 previous basis, a danger of what is called a Misinformation Effect on the part of eyewitnesses was delineated.² Participants in the original study were shown a series of slides, only one of which featured a car stopping in front of a yield sign (see right).² ³ After viewing the slides, participants were then given to read an outside opinion description of what they saw in one of the slides. Some of the participants were given descriptions that contained misinformation about the one slide with the car and yield sign, which stated that the car stopped instead at a stop sign. Now remember that this type of testimony is not based on memory of 6. Essential Schemata. It is based upon 3. Circumstantial and 4. Descriptive memory. As well, it positions the memory, not only outside a framework of a retention schema, but inside a reality of being disassociated trivia. These are the pertinent factors regarding this memory effect cited in the study, not the fact that the Essential Schemata was remembered incorrectly. “Following the slides and the reading of the description, participants were tested on what they saw. The results revealed that participants who were exposed to such misinformation were more likely to report seeing a stop sign than participants who were not misinformed.“³
Essential Schema Filtering Error
/philosophy : pseudoscience : biases : data filtering/ : when one uses pop psychology studies such as the 1980’s Loftus Study to dismiss memories and observations which they do not like. By citing that memories and eyewitness testimony are unreliable forms of evidence, pretend skeptics present an illusion of confidence on dismissing disliked eyewitness essential schema data, when neither the Federal Rules of Evidence, science nor even the cited studies make such a claim which allows the dismissal of eyewitness testimony at all.
The problem with this study is that it is measuring the accuracy of the long term, bias influenced mind on trivial matters, with no supportive memory schema, relating to
evidence bases. These are memory bases which can easily be altered by the passage of time or the influence of outside contrasting testimony which can impart a memory bias. The study shows this, but more importantly, it also shows that matters of memory in terms of 6. Essential Schemata, are very accurate.³
The witnesses, 100% recalled that a car was stopped at a sign. This is Essential Schemata, and it was demonstrated to be 100% accurate.
In other words, the witnesses may have doubt introduced in their mind as to whether a car in one slide in many, was stopped at a yield sign or a stop sign, but they did not have any doubt about the essential schema of a car stopped at a sign. A Social Skeptic would contend here that there was no such thing as a car stopped at a sign, or a collision and a car fire (in the further above example). It is a contrivance and manipulation to apply these study principles in this fashion.
Social Skeptics employ this twist of equivocation, a misapplication of this study and others like it, to principal memories of Essential Schema. Structures which retain Essential Schemata which otherwise could act as an evidential basis supporting an ethical employment of the scientific method. In this fashion, they obfuscate targeted sets of research and analysis from becoming the observational base for necessity made available to science.
This activity is fraud, and pseudoscience.
¹Yuille, J.C., & Cutshall, J.L. (1986). A case study of eyewitness memory of a crime. Journal of Applied Psychology, 71, 291-301.
²Elizabeth F. Loftus, Hunter G. Hoffman, University of Washington; “Misinformation and Memory: The Creation of New Memories;” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1989, Vol. 118, No. 1, pp. 100- 104.
³Lee, Kerry (2004). “Age, Neuropsychological, and Social Cognitive Measures as Predictors of Individual Differences in Susceptibility to the Misinformation Effect”. Applied Cognitive Psychology 18 (8): 997–1019. Quote and diagram 3 via Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misinformation_effect#cite_note-Lee-5 ; captured 29 April 2014).
† “Eyewitness confidence can predict accuracy of identifications, researchers find”; Science Magazine: Science Policy & Ethics; April 11, 2017; https://scienmag.com/eyewitness-confidence-can-predict-accuracy-of-identifications-researchers-find/
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