30 December 2010

David F Noble

"Arguably the greatest critical historian of science and technology died on Monday December 27, 2010, suddenly and unexpectedly of natural causes and within a few days of being admitted to hospital."

Obituary on Counterpunch by D Rancourt.

Books on Amazon UK.

Beyond the promised land.

"If we look at the idea and structure of a promise. ... It shifts our focus of attention from the today, the moment, the here and now, from the present, to some future fulfilment of the promise. That's one of the implications of a promise. Secondly, it shifts the source of your destiny: that is, from you shaping your own life, to some kind of faith that I will as the keeper of the promise. ... "

Update, Selected web-links for David F. Noble

23 December 2010

Man Tax

Does the student loan company discrimate between people on the basis of their gender?

The Student Loan Company provides loans for students in order to fund them through college.

Although they do not publish the figures with regard to gender (FoI in the offing), I anticipate that they provide loans on the basis of whether or not someone has a place at college: not on the basis of their gender.

But what about collecting repayment of the loans?

Anecdotal evidence is saying that there is a disparity of repayment based upon gender. Men are paying back loans; women are not paying back loans. I appreciate that the latter, is a sweeping statement; of course, when people (men or women) earn sufficient to pay back their student loans they are doing so. However, there is a pay discrepancy between men and women of, from memory, ten percent. Further, women take time off from work for child rearing. Both of these factors impact upon the ability of women to pay back the student loan.

There would be nothing wrong with this if we were talking about tax: each paying to their respective abilities to pay; the higher earner paying more than the lower earner.

But this isn't a tax. It is a loan. Loans don't look into the personal circumstances of the one in debt.

On the basis of anecdotal evidence, and the terms of these loans, a greater burden is being placed upon one group of people when it comes to paying back student loans. This group of people are defined by their gender, so arguably, the student loan system is discriminatory.

The legislation, section 1(2) Sex Discrimination Act 1975, provides,

"(2)In any circumstances relevant for the purposes of a provision to which this subsection applies, a person discriminates against a woman if—

(a)on the ground of her sex, he treats her less favourably than he treats or would treat a man, or
[F2(b)he applies to her a provision, criterion or practice which he applies or would apply equally to a man, but—
(i)which puts or would put women at a particular disadvantage when compared with men,
(ii)which puts her at that disadvantage, and
(iii)which he cannot show to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.]

Which, of course, is read in conjunction with section 2(1) of the Act,

"Section 1, and the provisions of Parts II and III relating to sex discrimination against women, are to be read as applying equally to the treatment of men, and for that purpose shall have effect with such modifications as are requisite."

Working through section 1(2) of the Act and assuming that the anecdotal evidence with regard to repayment is correct, s1(2)(b)(i) and s1(2)(b)(ii) are in being breached depending upon s1(2)(b)(iii) of the Act.

Is the student loan system, as implemented at present, a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim?

This analysis hasn't covered any case law (due to time constraints) which if covered would give clarity to the situation.

But on the basis of the above, I don't think that the mechanism is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The system is a disproportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim; particulalry, since there are other ways in which the funding of students through higher education could be done.

ps The Equality Commission are the people to ask as to whether or not this argument has any substance, and if it does, they are the ones to de-rail the student loan system.

21 December 2010

Detective Instinct

The Mindhacks blog drew our attention to some work they did about scopolamine. Here's the link.

Mindhacks is always worth a read but the thing that struck me was the example they chose of the police in late 1920s Hawaii using scopolamine in order to question a suspect. At the time the procedure was somewhat unusual and was written up in a medical journal. After a child had been kidnapped from school and a ransom had been paid, the child turned up dead. Since the kidnapper was thought to be oriental in appearance the police arrested the familly's Japanese chauffeur. The police tried to torture a confession from him but to no avail; so they decided to inject him with scopolamine.

"Under the influence of the substance the man became co-operative, confessed to the crime and described his evil plan in intricate detail, although he quickly recanted when the effects wore off. Wanting a confession that would stick, the drug interrogation was administered for a second time, only for the police to be embarrassed when real murderer was caught."

As usual there was no attempt to validate the technique.

Of course, this couldn't happen today, could it?

17 December 2010

The Sienna Zugzwang

It was only yesterday that I was writing about the "Phone Hacking Stalemate where I wrote,

"Most probably in view of the civil cases pertaining to the phone hacking scandal crawling through the courts the CPS says,

""It is possible that further allegations will be made and the CPS remains willing to consider any evidence submitted to us by the police. To facilitate this, the CPS and the Metropolitan Police Service intend to convene a panel of police officers and prosecutors to assess those allegations with a view to determining whether or not investigations should take place."

Lo and behold, here is a story from the Telegraph, "'New evidence' found in phone-hacking lawsuit.

"Lawyers for Sienna Miller claim to have discovered evidence which shows that a senior News of the World executive was aware a private investigator was being paid to hack into the actress' voicemails.

The claims are detailed in a document lodged with the High Court in preparation for Ms Miller's civil case against the newspaper. She is suing News of the World for breach of privacy and harassment.

The claims come just a week after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that there was no new evidence which would justify bringing prosecutions against any other journalists from News of the World.


It has been suggested that Scotland Yard failed to investigate the phone tapping at the News of the World properly and that evidence implicating other journalists in the hacking of voicemails was ignored. But last week the CPS said that – despite a number of new witnesses coming forward to say that the practice was widespread at the newspaper – none of them had evidence which would reach the threshold necessary for a criminal prosecution.

See Inforrm's, "“Phone Hacking – Questions to Answer” – Brian Cathcart" note on the matter. See the Guardian's story, Sienna Miller Phone Hacking Documents, which gives Miller's Particulars of Claim. Expect the scandal to keep simmering.

Update, 5th Jan 2011. The Telegraph tells us, "The News of the World suspends staff member over alleged phone hacking."

Sienna has kept the heat up,

"The allegation is understood to have stemmed from fresh litigation brought about by Sienna Miller, the actress and model, ..."

but as yet, no zugzwang from Scotland Yard/CPS.

Update 7th January 2011. The Independent reports, "Phone hacking: Now Met police are in the dock. Calls for force to lose control of investigation after 'News of the World' executive is suspended."

This is the sort of thing I meant by the Sienna Zugzwang.

"Britain's largest police force faces growing calls for it to be stripped of its powers in the inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, with MPs and public figures demanding that an independent police force take over the case.


It emerged last night that Scotland Yard had known of evidence against Mr Edmondson four years ago when officers were investigating the paper's former royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who were both convicted of unlawfully intercepting telephone calls in 2007. Asked yesterday why it had not questioned Mr Edmondson, the Met refused to comment, but a source said that senior figures at the Yard had resisted broadening the investigation.


Last night the Crown Prosecution Service declined to say whether its lawyers had been sent the "new"
[note the speech marks] evidence yet by the police.


Brian Paddick, a former senior Metropolitan Police officer who is taking legal action over allegations that his phone was hacked, told The Independent last night: "When the police are forced to disclose information by court order then it tends to raise doubts about whether the case has been properly investigated or not."

Update 9th January 2011, The Guardian Editorial is headed, "Phone hacking: Questions keep coming. We need answers",

"A powerful news organisation pays cash to avert scrutiny of dubious practices. Those practices are inadequately investigated by a police force that is thought to collaborate with the same news organisation. MPs say their inquiries are tempered by fear. The man who presided over the newspaper at the centre of the allegations is now the prime minister's chief media aide.

These are the ingredients for a major scandal. Mr Cameron needs to start responding to it as such.

Clarity is now beginning to appear in the mainstream.

Hotel Victor

The news tells us that Julian Assange has got bail under various conditions one of which is that he's staying as a guest of Vaughan Smith, (that is, Henry Vaughan Lockhart Smith) at Ellingham Hall.

Throughout the wikileaks phenomenon everyone has been wondering whether or not Assange is some valiant people's journalist or an actor performing a role, financed and created by the world of spooks, in order to peddle propaganda.

I don't know the truth of the matter.

In order to asssertain one way or another all I, or anyone can do, is look at the evidence.

So, who's this Smith character that has bailed Assange?

According to the wikipedia link above,

"Smith was an officer in the British Army’s Grenadier Guards, serving in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Germany. Smith captained the Army shooting team and won the inter-army rifle shooting championship."

Interesting company for a people's journalist to keep. (Interesting CV of Smith's: two places noted for psyops/counter intelligence/General Kitson).

Where's Assange staying?

"Ellingham Hall is a country house in the English county of Norfolk, .... It is situated in 600 acres (240 ha) of countryside .... Built from grey brick in the 18th century during the Georgian period, Ellingham Hall is a three-storey building with five bays, a large central doorway and ten bedrooms. ... The building has belonged to the Smith family for 225 years and before then the Johnsons, whom the Smiths married into.[2]

The hall is currently owned by Vaughan Smith, ...

All very interesting - very much part of the Establishment.

A bit more about Smith from an article in the Telegraph, "Inside Story: Life on the frontline",

"The Prekaz massacre of March 1998, in which 58 Albanians were killed by Serb forces in the Drenica Valley region of Kosovo, was a key trigger for the conflict which eventually led to the Nato invasion of Yugoslavia. Vaughan Smith was one of the first cameramen to arrive in the province. "We heard there was fighting Prekaz, so I went to film the Serbs attacking this tiny hamlet," he remembers. "I got shot at and a bullet hit my phone, which was in a pouch around my waist with cigarettes and a roll of 3,000 Deutschmarks. I felt something but didn't realise I'd been hit, so I carried on filming. After, I thought I'd better contact my missus to say I was alright and discovered my phone was not capable of making calls. It slowed down the bullet, but ultimately I think I was saved by the Deutschmarks.""

So, Smith played a key propaganda role in NATO's illegal war.

I don't want to share any conclusions that I may have drawn from the above other than to say that it gives a massive dent to the credibility of wikileaks.

I've said before that it looks as though wikileaks is chaff seeded with lies, the above reinforces my opinion.

Update 17th Dec 2010

From the Guardian story, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange granted bail: as it happened at 3:27pm

"Jennifer Robinson, one of Assange's lawyers, said the five new people who would be accepted as surety were former journalist and author of The First Casualty Sir Phillip Knightley; magazine publisher Felix Dennis; Nobel prize winner Sir John Sulston; former Labour minister and chairman of Faber & Faber publishing house Lord Matthew Evans; and Professor Patricia David."

16 December 2010

Bridge to Hell

Back in 2008, prosecutor for the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, wrote about people having their organs taken. The people were non-Albanians (Kosovan Serbs) who were taken to Albania where they had their organs extracted. As one would imagine, from the wikipedia link,

"The book caused a considerable controversy with Kosovan and Albanian officials denying these allegations and Russian and Serbian officials demanding more investigation."

The story appeared in The Telegraph, Serb prisoners 'were stripped of their organs in Kosovo war'",

"According to the sources, senior figures in the Kosovo Liberation Army were aware of the scheme, in which hundreds of young Serbs were allegedly taken by truck from Kosovo to northern Albania where their organs were removed. Miss Del Ponte provides grim details of the alleged organ harvesting, and of how some prisoners were sewn up after having kidneys removed.

"The victims, deprived of a kidney, were then locked up again, inside the barracks, until the moment they were killed for other vital organs. In this way, the other prisoners were aware of the fate that awaited them, and according to the source, pleaded, terrified, to be killed immediately," Miss Del Ponte writes.

But nothing seemed to happen. The story went quiet.

Now we have a draft report from Dick Marty, rapporteur for the Council of Europe,

"Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo 12 Dec 2010" [retrieved 16.12.2010],

This report is worth reading in full.

"In concluding, we should once again recall that that this report has been drawn up in the wake of the revelations that appeared in the memoirs of the former Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY. Shocked by those disclosures, the Parliamentary Assembly entrusted us with the task of looking more closely into the allegations and the human rights violations said to have been committed in Kosovo in the material period. The elements reported in the former Prosecutor's book primarily concerned the alleged trafficking of human organs. Our difficult, sensitive investigations enabled us not only to substantiate those elements, but also to shed light on further, related allegations and to draw a very sombre, worrying picture of what took place, and is to some extent continuing to take place, in Kosovo. Our task was not to conduct an criminal investigation -we are not empowered to do so, and above all we lack the necessary resources - let alone to pronounce judgments of guilt or innocence.

176. The information we have gathered nonetheless concerns extremely grave events that took place in the very heart of Europe.

Phone Hacking Stalemate

The CPS has released a statement (10/12/2010) explaining that the prosecution of the phone hacking allegations are to be shelved.

They explain that the person who brought the world's attention to the allegations by publishing an article in the New York Times refused to give further details to the police, consequently there is no evidence upon which to proceed.

Most probably in view of the civil cases pertaining to the phone hacking scandal crawling through the courts the CPS says,

""It is possible that further allegations will be made and the CPS remains willing to consider any evidence submitted to us by the police. To facilitate this, the CPS and the Metropolitan Police Service intend to convene a panel of police officers and prosecutors to assess those allegations with a view to determining whether or not investigations should take place."

But finish with ...

"...a criminal prosecution can only take place if those making allegations of wrongdoing are prepared to cooperate with a criminal investigation and to provide admissible evidence of the wrongdoing they allege."

For detailed legal analysis see, "Jack of Kent: MetGate: the law relating to interception of telephone calls and voicemail" and for comparison, a case where there is ample evidence but no prosecution, see "She cut me."

Loss of Scholarship

Student loans/grants/fees are in the news: the background doesn't need to be rehearsed here.

One aspect that isn't addressed is the scholarship aspect of student grants.

There was a time - before 1987 - when A-level students were assessed in a normative manner. The A-level results for the whole country were collated and from that the pass grades were calculated. That is, if ten percent of the population got sixty percent or above, the pass mark for a grade A was sixty percent or above. One year the pass mark for a grade A may have been seventy-five percent or above, another year it may have been eighty percent or above. This method of moving goal posts meant that your results were linked to how well the rest of the country did in the exam.

If you got a student grant and free tuition on the basis of this assessment criteria you were effectively given a scholarship.

Post 1987 the assessment method changed from the normative one described above to a criteria assessment. If you fulfilled certain criteria you were deemed to have attained a particular grade.

I can see the argument for the virtues of criteria assessment rather than normative assessment.

However, why can't normative assessment run in parallel to criteria assessment?

In this way the best in the country can receive scholarships - full grant and free tuition - from the State?

The people who would be capable of getting normative A grades and similar are the ones who are being cheated in the current arrangement.

See "A-levels worse than useless for a similar post to the above.

13 December 2010

Something Smells Funny

In medicine, where a screening test has false positivies and false negatives such that the test brings with it risks as to its usefullness; the test is dropped.

For an example, consider the Telegraph report, "Prostate cancer test is too risky, say doctors" where,

"It has been claimed that the test leads to over-diagnosis as it cannot distinguish between cancer and other conditions, such as a benign enlargement of the prostate or a urinary infection. Nor is a negative result fully reliable, as it can miss a tumour and dangerously provide a false reassurance."

A test that has its effectiveness judged on the basis of its false positive and false negative rates seems sensible to me.

Now, imagine if someone said that they had trained a dog to sniff out cancer, would you believe them?

I doubt it. Nevertheless, if false positive and false negative rates were provided in support of the claim we might think differently.

So, why do we accept this screening test when it comes to drug screening? That is, using sniffer dogs to indicate whether or not someone is carrying drugs?

I've blogged about this in the past "Validity of Your Assay".

Someone was stopped and searched leaving a tube station on the basis of the behaviour of a sniffer dog towards him. He tried to seek a legal remedy and that was the last that I heard. Periodically I would search for the case but nothing came of my searches.

I thought of this case again when I read Leveson LJ's recent lecture about expert evidence. On the grapevine, I found that there was an attempt to get a hearing but the court would not allow legal aid. At which point the case ground into the dust.

So, we've got a situation where a screening test is used as the basis of reasonableness in justifying the stopping and searching of someone. However, no criteria that describes the validity of the test is given by those operating the test. Further, reports suggest that the screening test has a false positive rate of 75%.

Not only that but the screening test can be gamed either unwittingly, or wittingly.

Animals are sensitive to their handlers unwittingly giving them cues, see, Clever Hans. Cues which would simply be reflections of the handlers prejudices.

The handler could also train the dog to behave as though drugs were present on the basis of hidden cue.

All this because Release did not manage to have their case heard.

(The Guardian has another example).

Update 19th February 2011. It appears that someone else has grasped the significance of the Clever Hans effect to sniffer dogs. You can read about a study reported by the Economist on the Mind Hacks blog, Sniffing Out the Unconscious.

Why wasn't this study done years and years and years ago? Talk about science being manipulated by those who control the purse strings.

06 December 2010

P(A Person Has Committed A Crime | The Person Has Been Convicted Of That Crime)

What is the probability that a person has committed a crime given that the person has been convicted of that crime?

With a prison population of 88,000, if the answer to that question was 99%, 880 people would be in prison who had not committed the crime for which they were incarcerated.

The question forces us to think about the fiction of conviction and the fact of committing. One is a reality constructed in our minds and supported by violence, the other a reality that is independent of our minds. If someone commits an offence and we don't convict them, it doesn't mean that they haven't done it; similarly, if someone is convicted of an offence, it doesn't mean that they did it.

Unfortunately, this distinction is easily forgotten.

Ask people whether or not to bring back capital punishment; ask people whether or not it is acceptable to conduct medical experiments on prisoners; ask if prisoners should have rights, and the fiction of conviction becomes the reality of 'they committed the crime'.

Does this matter?

To the people who have been convicted but have not committed an offence it matters. But to society as a whole?

To society as a whole it is just as important to convict people who have committed a crime as it is to acquit people who have not committed a crime. Due to the imperfections of the process, for the greater good, we must accept some injustice.

Acceptance of injustice is difficult enough, especially to the victim, but what about the nature of the injustice. Being a victim of circumstance is different from being a victim of others.

What happens when people are prosecuted not because it is thought that they have necessarily committed the crime but because they are vulnerable, less able to defend themselves. What happens if policing is done such that people are pursued not because it is thought that they have committed the offence in question but because they are not especially able to defend themselves.

Some appalling examples of wrong convictions easily spring to mind, such as Stefan Kiszko.

I can't see into the hearts of the police officers who pursued Stefan Kiszko; I don't know whether they held the belief that he had committed the crime, but I can imagine similar circumstances, perhaps less extreme, where those who convict have no interest whatsoever as to whether the person found guilty has committed the crime. It is rumoured that some prosecutors get a greater satisfaction in convicting a person knowing that he hasn't committed the crime rather than knowing that he has committed the crime.

Not only can one imagine instances of people being convicted of a crime that they didn't commit due to unfortunate circumstances such as bad luck; due to incompetence or spite of police and prosecution services, one can also envision people being convicted for political reasons.

Handing over the baton to Gareth Pierce we have,

"It is not difficult to achieve a conviction of the innocent. Over many decades several common factors have been identified, [...] achieving the co-operation of witnesses by means of a combination of inducements and fear of the alternative (the tried and tested method of obtaining evidence for the prosecution on which many US cases rely); the provision of factual information by scientists where there is no proper basis for it (a recurrent theme in UK convictions as well as in the US); reliance on ‘identification’ evidence which is no such thing. Add to that the political will to achieve a prosecution, and the rest is easy. Fabrication demands outright dishonesty, but it isn’t always necessary, or necessary in every aspect of an investigation: the momentum of suspicion, and a blinkered determination to focus on a particular thesis and ignore evidence pointing to the contrary, is a certain route to achieving the desired end."

The more we consider the question, "What is the probability that a person has committed a crime given that the person has been convicted of that crime?", the more difficult it will be to convict innocent people.
Update, 24th Dec 2010. The following paper may be of interest,

A Derivation of Probabilities of Correct and
Wrongful Conviction in a Criminal Trial
Henrik Lando
Copenhagen Business School and Lefic
March 14, 2006

Update 28th February 2011
Listened to Radio4 last night. Gerry Conlon (innocent of Guildford 4 bombing yet 15 years in jail) said 20,000 miscarriages of justices p.a "

Update 7th April 2011. I've had a couple of thoughts about putting a number to the question I asked at the beginning of the post: the probability that someone has committed a crime given that they've been convicted is 0.5.

Firstly, either the person did commit it (p=1) or he didn't (p=0), the average of which is ((1+0)/2) 0.5.

Secondly, we know that people do commit crimes and that of those who do some are convicted, in this case p=1. Unfortunately, we know that some people are convicted on the basis of lies (Birmingham 6, etc), incompetence or mistake, which takes our value of p=0. Taking these three values and finding their average, ((0.5 + 0 + 1)/3) doesn't shift us from 0.5. Until we know the proportions of people who definitely did do it and the proportions who definitely did not do it, we can't shift from this 0.5 probability level.

As far as I'm concerned, this research is screaming to be done since, as is, we're saddled with a criminal punishment system where there is only a 0.5 probability that a person who has been convicted of a crime committed it. Yes, I know that our prejudices tell us differently but we should be able to do better: our system shouldn't be based on faith and prejudice.
Update 14th April 2011, from Mindhacks, How to jail the innocent,
"The Innocence Project has used DNA technology to overturn hundreds of wrongful convictions. Slate has an excellent two part series on the two main reasons why these people were falsely jailed: eyewitness misidentifications and false confessions."

Update 12th August 2011, again from Mindhacks, False Confession Fishing in the Lab.
"During the test, which was filmed by a hidden camera, ten participants actually did cheat. Bafflingly, though, another eight falsely confessed when accused by the experimenter, despite participants having been told cheats would be fined €50 ($72). "
Vaughan also gives us, "The Persuasive Power of False Confessions": yet more scientific studies suggesting that there are a lot of innocent people who have been falsely convicted of a crime.

This time the focus is on the corrosive effect towards the objectivity of investigators upon hearing a confession: once the confession is heard they turn into Procrustes and fit ambiguous evidence to the hypothesis that the 'confessee' did it.

Update 22nd September 2011. Columbia University provides the study, A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995" and a follow-up study, A Broken System, Part II: Why There Is So Much Error in Capital Cases, and What Can Be Done About It.

The first report provides the following diagram:
which gives us an answer to the question posed at the very top of this post. What is the probability that a person has committed a crime (in this case one which courts the death penalty) given that the person has been convicted of that crime? Based on this work the answer is 32 %; you would've got a better chance from flipping a coin than going through this judicial system.

If that's the answer for capital crimes, what about non-capital offences? Criminal damage, theft, fraud etc.

The methodology used in the report is that of results from the justice system being used to test the justice system. It isn't a case of some sort of scientific analysis being used. This would be better ... as to whether or not any State has a system that could withstand this scrutiny, I don't know.

Update 3rd October 2011. Of course, don't forget that the fiction of the findings of a court are applicable to civil cases as well as criminal ones. Hence in both situations,
"We must not allow [Court] decisions to construct our reality."

Update 5th October 2011. It looks as though my question will be answered soon. Academics at Probability and Law blog have got the funding to answer my question.
"We have already got the support of people at the Criminal Cases Review Commission to look at cases on file to do exactly this."