Patterico's Pontifications


Jurors, Likely Misled by L.A. Times, Acquit Man Accused of Sexually Assaulting an Elderly Woman

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 9:21 pm

Just as I feared, those misleading L.A. Times articles on DNA, cold hits, and statistics are starting to have an effect in the courtroom.

In May, the L.A. Times ran a front-page DNA article that completely botched the statistics on “cold hit” cases, falsely telling people (on Page One of the Sunday paper) that the odds of a particular convicted defendant being innocent were actually 1 in 3. The paper had absolutely no basis to make this statement the way they phrased it. I called them on it, as did Eugene Volokh. But the reporters and editors stubbornly refused to correct the error.

Then in July, the paper ran another Page One Sunday blockbuster, telling readers on the front page that a researcher had run searches in an Arizona DNA database that revealed “dozens” of matches, “each seeming to defy impossible odds.” Only on page A20 were readers told that most of these Incredibly Unexpected Matches were, in fact, “to be expected statistically” because each sample was matched to every other sample in the database — exponentially increasing the total number of comparisons, and “greatly increasing the odds” of finding a match. (There was a discrepancy between the expected number of matches and the reality, but this discrepancy was not anywhere as stunning as suggested on Page One. According to one researcher, statistics suggested there would be about 100 matches out of the 2 billion comparisons done in the Arizona database. In reality, there were actually 144 matches, instead of the expected 100.)

Even educated people got confused reading these articles. This can be explained, in part, by the fact that statistics is a very complicated subject. But part of the explanation lies in the articles’ overly dramatic presentation, coupled with their often misleading and sometimes flatly false statements concerning the relevant statistics.

I suspected that most educated people who trust the paper came away with only a vague notion of the math involved — but with a firm impression that There Is Something Wrong With DNA and that Jurors Are Being Lied To. I worried that jury verdicts in Los Angeles would be affected.

It’s starting to happen. These irresponsible articles have begun to bear fruit.

My wife tells me a very distressing story about a case recently tried in a courthouse in this County in which the defendant was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in her eighties. He was accused of scamming his way into her house and forcibly orally copulating her. He was prosecuted almost entirely on the basis of a cold hit. (There were, in fact, cold hits to the same DNA profile from samples taken from two other sexually assaulted elderly women. But the jury didn’t hear about those other sexual assaults. One of the other sexually assaulted women had died by the time of trial. The other refused to testify — and under state law could not be forced to.)

When the jury came back with a verdict, everyone expected that the defendant would be found guilty. After all, the DNA had not been degraded. After the cold hit, a sample of the defendant’s DNA was compared to the evidence sample and matched at all 13 loci. My wife doesn’t know the exact random match probability, but she believes it was 1 in several trillion (if not more). I am unaware of any proven case in the history of DNA analysis where two samples matched at 13 loci and turned out to be two different people (with the obvious exception of identical twins, of course). (The most recent L.A. Times article darkly hinted at such a possibility, but it has never been shown to happen, as far as I am aware.)

The jury came back not guilty.

The accused man would be walking the streets — except that he is being held on an immigration hold. (But that’s another story.)

And the foreman of the jury told the D.A. afterwards that he felt the D.A. had failed to prove the case with DNA, “in light of recent controversies about DNA.” (Controversies that had been specifically ruled inadmissible by the judge.) He didn’t mention the L.A. Times specifically, but he was a local law professor. It stands to reason that he likely followed the front-page articles above with some degree of interest.

I wasn’t there, and I don’t know precisely what the evidence was. But I’m hearing that the judge was shocked, and that at least one well-respected defense attorney in the courthouse feels that justice was not done.

If you want to know why I get so upset at these articles and their sloppy and misleading language, this is why.

Actual dangerous people are going to end up walking the streets because the editors and reporters at the L.A. Times feel a compulsion to overdramatize their DNA findings, and occasionally misstate the statistics in seriously meaningful ways.

It is, of course, incredibly unlikely that the reporters and editors involved in putting these articles together will ever be directly affected by verdicts like the one I just told you about. Even in the topsy-turvy statistical world of the Los Angeles Times, where impossible odds are portrayed as commonplace, it is still incredibly unlikely that the man just freed by this verdict will sexually assault, say, the elderly mother of one of the editors or reporters.

But I’d be willing to bet he’ll assault someone‘s mom.

Are you proud, L.A. Times reporters? Are you happy to see that you’re Making a Difference?

Good. Hey, guys, I might eventually have an even better story for you. If this guy sexually assaults another elderly lady, I’ll try to get you an exclusive interview with her.

Sound good? Great! Hey, I understand. It’s all about the story.

Phenomenal Michael Phelps

Filed under: Sports — DRJ @ 7:28 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Mark Spitz won 7 gold medals in Munich in 1972, the most gold medals won by one person in a single Olympics to date. However, America’s Michael Phelps has a chance to surpass that feat in Beijing this year. If he wins 8 gold medals it would give him 14 for his career, also a world record.

ESPN’s Pat Forde lists Phelps’ Olympic events, ranks the difficulty of each, and details the results so far:

Event No. 1: 400-meter individual medley
When is the final: Sunday am in Beijing; Saturday pm in the U.S.
How hard is it: “Third-toughest of Phelps’ eight.”

END RESULT: “Phelps kept pace with teammate Lochte and Hungary’s Cseh during his weakest discipline, the breaststroke, before putting the hammer down in the freestyle to win his first gold of the Games in world-record time (4:03.84). Phelps’ gold count: 1 for 1.”

Event No. 2: 4×100 free relay
When is the final: Monday morning in Beijing; Sunday night in the U.S.
How hard is it: ESPN ranked it as Phelps’ “toughest race of the meet.”

END RESULT: “Michael Phelps almost saw his run end, but Jason Lezak came back in the final leg of the 4×100 relay to help the U.S. men edge France to win gold in world-record time (3:08.24) in one of the most memorable relay races in Olympic history. Phelps’ gold count: 2-for-2.”

Event No. 3: 200 freestyle
When is the final: Tuesday morning in Beijing; Monday night in the U.S.
How hard is it: “Seventh-toughest.”

END RESULT [per DRJ]: Phelps took a commanding lead that he extended to two body lengths at the finish, winning his third gold of the Games in world-record time (1:42:96). Phelps’ gold count: 3 for 3.”

Event No. 4: 200 butterfly
When is the final: Wednesday morning in Beijing; Tuesday night in the U.S.
How hard is it: “Easiest of the bunch.”

Event No. 5: 4×200 free relay
When is the final: Wednesday morning in Beijing; Tuesday night in the U.S.
How hard is it: “Fifth-toughest.”

Event No. 6: 200 individual medley
When is the final: Friday morning in Beijing; Thursday night in the U.S.
How hard is it: “Second-toughest.”

Event No. 7: 100 butterfly
When is the final: Saturday morning in Beijing; Friday night in the U.S.
How hard is it: “Fourth-toughest.”

Event No. 8: 4×100 medley relay
When is the final: Sunday morning in Beijing; Saturday night in the U.S.
How hard is it: “Sixth-toughest.”

Phelps is already a hero to me regardless of what happens in Beijing. Not only is he a repeat gold medalist in more than one Olympics, but the fact that he qualified in several races is evidence of his exemplary ability and discipline.

Here’s your chance to predict Phelps’ ultimate medal count and/or to wish him well.


Obama’s Speech

Filed under: 2008 Election — DRJ @ 6:03 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Barack Obama’s acceptance speech falls on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

That’s nice symbolism.


Shock and Awe in Georgia

Filed under: International — DRJ @ 4:33 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The UK Daily Mail reports Georgian officials claim the country has been overrun by Russian troops after a “full-scale ground invasion.” The AP reports four or more Georgian cities have been overtaken by Russian forces with significant loss of military and civilian lives.

The US military expressed surprise at the speed and strength of the Russian response to last week’s two-day Georgian offensive into South Ossetia:

“The US defense official said about 8,000 to 10,000 Russian troops have moved into South Ossetia. They also have flown SU-25, SU-24, SU-27 and TU-22 fighters and bombers during the campaign.

But the official said there was no obvious buildup of Russian forces along the border that signaled an intention to invade.

“Once it did happen they were able to get the forces quickly and it was just a matter of taking the roads in. So it’s not as though they were building up forces on the border, waiting,” the official said.

“What are their future intentions, I don’t know. Obviously they could throw more troops at this if they wanted to,” he said.”

The initial White House response, like that of Barack Obama, was to call for diplomatic and peacekeeping efforts along with restraint by both the Russians and the Georgians. John McCain also called for diplomatic and peacekeeping measures but condemned Russian aggression, a position the White House apparently now joins.

The Western-financed $2.75B Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline runs through Georgia from the oil-rich Caspian Sea to the West. Russia and the US have been engaged in what the Asia Times calls a “geo-strategic rivalry between US- and Russian-backed oil-transit routes” in the Caspian region.

Some people rail about blood-for-oil. Oil is the primary energy source for the world and it’s in every country’s national interest to make sure it has a reliable supply and/or method of marketing and distribution. The Russian invasion of Georgia is what blood-for-oil really looks like.


This Post is Useless Without Pics

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 2:36 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Austin American-Statesman has a brief article about a Houston man who was arrested at Lake Travis near Austin because he photographed “without their permission” two topless women as they swam and sunbathed in the lake. The man was hiding behind a tree in a cove and spotted by a Travis County Deputy Sheriff. He initially denied he had a camera but consented to a search that revealed a camera with a telephoto lens containing photos of the women’s genitalia. [EDIT: The description of the photos comes from the arrest affidavit.]

Is it illegal to “improperly photograph” someone without their permission in a public place? I assume it could be if it is for the purpose of sexual deviancy or gratification, but the felony charge simply says “Improper Photo/Visual Recording Without Consent.”

Assuming this location is not private property, should there be an expectation of privacy if you sunbathe topless in a public place?

EDIT: My thanks to NK who provides the relevant Texas statute in his comment.


Quote of the Day

Filed under: 2008 Election,Media Bias — DRJ @ 12:47 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

From ABC News:

“I can’t say I understand the rules of the media and I’m not sure they do either,”

… said Howard Wolfson, former Hillary Clinton Communications Director, on how mystified he is by “the failure of the national media” to aggressively pursue the National Enquirer story on John Edwards’ affair to the extent it pursued allegations about other candidates.

Of course, Wolfson already knows the mainstream media is often all-too-willing to follow Gary Hart’s unwritten rule of politics:

“It will come as a surprise to many people that there are rules in politics. Most of those rules are unwritten and are based on common understandings, acceptable practices, and the best interest of the political party a candidate seeks to lead. One of those rules is this: Do not provide ammunition to the opposition party that can be used to destroy your party’s nominee. This is a hyper-truth where the presidential contest is concerned.”

Wolfson also told ABC News that, had Edwards’ affair been exposed earlier, he would have dropped out of the Presidential race and Hillary Clinton “would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee.”


The L.A. Times’s “McCain Is Not Really a Maverick” Article — And Obama Is?

Filed under: 2008 Election,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 6:44 am

The L.A. Times publishes a “McCain isn’t really a maverick” article.

The article lists six ways that McCain has defied the Republican party, and no examples of Obama standing up to Democrats. Given this data, there is really only one obvious conclusion: McCain might not really be a maverick! This obvious conclusion is set forth in the deck headline: “McCain defends his outsider image after having embraced GOP dogma for the primary.”

Sure, the article acknowledges that McCain has bucked his party on:

  • global warming
  • campaign finance reform
  • early Iraq strategy
  • pork-barrel spending by Republicans
  • pursuing Jack Abramoff
  • the Gang of 14

And sure, the article doesn’t name one single solitary major issue where Obama has taken on his party.

Still, the article is determined to portray McCain as someone who has flip-flopped his way into the good graces of his party. And so, despite McCain’s documented bucking of his party in the above numerous areas, we’re treated to repetitions of two themes: 1) McCain now supports Bush’s tax cuts, and 2) McCain has made up with religious leaders:

To win the GOP primary this year, McCain embraced party dogma in ways big and small, from switching his opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts, which he had criticized as skewed to the rich, to making amends with religious leaders he once denounced as “agents of intolerance.

As further evidence that McCain is not a maverick, the article notes that 1) McCain has switched his opposition to Bush’s tax cuts, and 2) McCain has made amends with religious leaders:

But McCain’s positioning for the 2008 race undercut that firebrand image. He now supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. He has vowed to appoint conservative judges. And he gave the commencement speech at Falwell’s college, Liberty University. “I do not believe in holding grudges in life or in politics,” McCain said at the time.

“Around 2005 or so, he realized he was running for president and he made a calculated decision . . . he was going to do whatever was necessary to win this office,” said Matt Welch, editor in chief of Reason magazine, whose book “McCain” is subtitled “The Myth of a Maverick.”

Vowing to appoint conservative judges is hardly a huge spin-around for a guy who voted for Alito and Roberts. So we’re left with — do I have to number them again? I think I do! — 1) McCain supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent, and 2) McCain has made up with religious leaders.

Look, there’s a case to be made that McCain is willing to sacrifice principle for personal ambition. As Matt Welch points out, he’s done it before and he’s admitted doing it before, many times.

But I find it remarkable that an article can document six ways that this man has indeed bucked the Republican party line, and zero ways in which Obama has bucked the Democrat party line, and have the resultant spin be: wow, John McCain may not really be a maverick!

Blocking ‘The Path To 9/11’

Filed under: Media Bias — Justin Levine @ 1:40 am

[posted by Justin Levine]

If I’m reading the site correctly, the announcement for the premiere screening of this documentary on Friday in Los Angeles seems to indicate that it has already sold out. Pity. People who bought tickets will get a DVD copy of it at the end (the documentary that is, not ‘The Path to 9/11’ itself).  Hopefully I can get my hands on one.

– Justin Levine

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