Science be damned, Italian edition

Reading Nina Burleigh’s book* on the malicious prosecution of Amanda Knox in Italy, The Fatal Gift of Beauty, I am struck over and over again by the offensive indifference to fairness and integrity displayed by Italy’s judicial apparatus. In particular, by the way the founding principles of scientific cognition, upon which the Western world has been largely built with great help from Italians like Galileo, are getting brushed aside in favor of self-serving idiocies.

Defense experts raised doubts [at the 2009 trial] about the validity and meaning of most of the material evidence presented by the prosecution and police. Defense lawyers demanded to see the raw data on which the scientists had based their work. The prosecution refused…

In the UK as well as most US states, DNA experts are expected to produce raw data files by default. Failure to do so makes DNA analysis unverifiable and, therefore, unreliable. Defense experts should be able to go over the same data as prosecution experts.

Although the DNA analysis performed by Italy’s so-called “scientific police” has been exposed as sham by various experts, they had to deal with derivative information. The raw data files have never surfaced. Manuela Comodi, the shameless assistant prosecutor, responded thus to the defense request to appoint independent experts and drop the case if the necessary files are not produced:

“We decide if documents are necessary or not. I didn’t even look at their request of July 30 [for the independent experts – AK]. I opened it and closed it right away. It was so useless. No law says the scientific police have to produce all that’s requested. It’s not proof, and we didn’t need it to support our case. The prosecutor’s office decides what is useful and what is distraction… telling us that not producing the documents warrants tossing out the case is like asking the postal police to explain how they found a hooker online. The important thing is that they found the hooker!”

“We decide if documents are necessary or not,” just like in Russia. But it gets better, and more Italian:

“It’s like cooking pasta,” she suggested. “ When you prepare the spaghetti, for example, some people weigh it first, and some people don’t. In any case, the pasta gets cooked and still tastes delicious.”

In the end, concludes Burleigh, “the results were what mattered” to Italian prosecutors (I’d add most judges), “not the incomprehensible details of how the scientists had obtained them.”

Which is exactly the opposite of what matters for a scientifically valid result. Break the rules of experiment, and you can throw your conclusions in the waste bin. Refuse to turn over data to back up your results, and your peers will stop trusting you. Try challenging your critics, “but you have to show what exactly went wrong in my experiment,” and the response will be, “no, it’s your job to make sure everything goes right.” In Italy though, police labs can violate every standard and it’s always the defense that must prove contamination, as if those violations were not proof enough.

*Burleigh, Nina (2011-08-02). The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox (p. 268). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

One comment

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Winterings in Trans-Scythia

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading