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‘Courtroom Science’ and the Afterlife - Why attorneys as just as important as scientists

It may shock some people to learn that litigation – court procedure -especially in cross examinations is just as important as physical science when it comes to proving the existence of the afterlife. Cross examination is more than just an ‘art’ – it has certain empirical principles the way Scientific Method has. Normally, scientists conduct experiments and indicate what the results are. Then the scientist interprets the results and writes a paper which sometimes is peer reviewed.

But in controversial areas of science the credibility and the prejudices of the scientists working in the field and the credibility of those who oppose their results become an urgent, critical issue. Testing the credibility, the prejudices - and degree of expertise of an expert witness in science is a standard task for barristers who know that the outcome of many a trial depends on the testimony sometimes of one expert witness.

Recently we have seen how scientists working in studies sponsored by the pharamaceutical industry have allowed their prejudices and vested interests to influence their findings. According to Anesthesiology News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times in 2009 Scott S. Reuben, a prominent Massachusetts anesthesiologist was found to have allowed his scientific prejudices – to fake data used in 21 studies which were published in several anesthesiology journals between 1996 and 2008. Scientific American has called Reuben the medical equivalent of Bernie Madoff,

A growing concern with fraud and misconduct in published drug studies has led researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Pharmacoeconomic Research to investigate the extent and reasons for retractions in the research. In May of 2012 they released a report which analysed an alarming increase in the number of journal articles in drug literature which are later retracted. Nearly three-quarters of the retracted drug studies were attributed to scientific misconduct "which includes data falsification or fabrication, questionable veracity, unethical author conduct, or plagiarism.”

In July of this year U.K.-based pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the USA and was fined $3 billion in what even the mainstream media is calling the largest healthcare fraud case in history. A nine-year legal federal investigation has exposed GSK's rampant abuse of the law by illegally marketing drugs, forging drug safety data, bribing doctors to promote dangerous and expensive drugs, ripping off Medicare and Medicaid, and lying about the effectiveness and safety of drugs. It was the legal process which flushed out the fraud by the scientists.

The legal process of cross-examination is one way of testing the expertise, credibility and motives of a scientist witness. But when I refer to cross-examination, I refer to those attorneys who are experts and have full knowledge of the empirical rules of cross-examination – which are akin to the empirical rules of Scientific Method. There are many lawyers who never in their life cross-examined anyone because they are not ‘attorneys’; they never worked the courts, in the lower or the higher courts – they work in legal offices in different administrative areas of law. Non-litigation lawyers are not experts or competent in cross-examination and usually do not know the empirical rules.

I give one example to illustrate how critically important competent cross-examination by attorneys is. During the Nuremberg trials in 1945, Hitler’s successor, Herman Goering, was crossed examined first by American lawyer-politician Robert Jackson. This American former Attorney General made a mess of cross-examining Goering.

Jackson showed he did not know the basic empirical laws of cross-examination! He was playing a politician there- NOT AN ATTORNEY - when cross examining Goering. That was fatal. Historians tell us that Goering made Robert Jackson look silly. But then a highly competent British barrister (senior attorney) expert in cross-examination, Sir David-Maxwell Fife, was called to take Robert Jackson’s place. He had an impressive courtroom record and made Goering look absolutely ridiculous – cutting him to shreds by brilliant cross-examination. Sir David saved the day for the free world and showed he was a master of the empirical rules of cross-examination.

When it comes to the issue of the evidence for the afterlife the skeptical ‘physical scientists’ would be the so-called expert witnesses. They would be cross-examined on the extent of their knowledge and prejudices.

In a famous relatively recent Australian murder case where the mother Lindy Chamberlain was accused of killing her baby daughter, it was her barrister whose incisive cross examination showed that the ‘expert’ testimony of the police scientist regarding the blood samples found was all wrong. The accused was subsequently freed from all guilt.

Critical to the legal procedure and something which is not disclosed in scientific reports, is whether the scientist refuses to answer critical testing-questions. This is most vital because in the courtroom the scientist witness is sworn to tell the truth – and if the witness is caught lying or refuses to answer a question the witness could go to prison.
Here is an example of a part of a hypothetical cross examination of an anti-afterlife ‘closed-minded’ skeptic-scientist:

Attorney: Do you accept there is an afterlife, yes or no…

Skeptic: No, there is no afterlife …

Attorney : What evidence do you have to say there is no afterlife?

Skeptic: I don’t think there is any evidence for the afterlife.

Attorney : I did not ask if there was any evidence for the afterlife. I asked what evidence do YOU have to say the afterlife does not exist?

Skeptic : I guess there is no evidence proving the afterlife does not exist.

Attorney : Are you aware that there has NEVER been a book written by a scientist or anyone that there is no or cannot be an afterlife?

Skeptic – hesitating: …. Yes, I’m aware of that. But …

Attorney: NO BUTS … that called for a yes-no answer. Have you ever read books by highly credible scientists confirming that there is an afterlife?

Skeptic: There are no real books by scientists about the afterlife …

Attorney : Have you ever investigated the afterlife evidence?

Skeptic: No, never …. There is no evidence …

Attorney : Have you read books by the scientist Sir Oliver Lodge on why he after investigation the afterlife accepted the evidence for the afterlife? Yes or no.

Skeptic: No, I have not …

Attorney : Have you read any of the books mostly by scientists which clearly explain the afterlife evidence: Professor Fontana’s Is There an Afterlife, and the books by Sir William Crookes, Sir William Barrett, Arthur Findlay (some fifty more books mentioned)?

Skeptic (hesitating): No … I have not read any of the books you mentioned.

Attorney: NO, YOU HAVE NOT? Why then would you come to a conclusion about something of critical importance BEFORE you investigated?

Skeptic: (Not answering)

Attorney: – looking at the judge. Could you tell this witness your Honor he has to answer the question…

Judge: Yes, yes … (to the skeptic): you must answer the question….

Skeptic: (Still refuses to answer the question):

Judge: If you do not answer the question, I will hold you in contempt … which means you could be locked up until you decide to answer the question ….

I have put on my website three highly informative, entertaining and interesting hypothetical cross-examinations of two internationally known scientists and one flamboyant skeptic to show that cross-examination flushes out the truth about the afterlife evidence in a way conventional science cannot. I have added a qualification that I would be more than happy to hear from any attorney to show where, when how and why the cross-examination is unfair. In some twelve months since I put these cross-examinations on my website, I received heaps of positive responses even from American lawyers but not even one negative. To view go to the left column of my website: www.victorzammit.com