Choosing science over beliefs: Frequency of dog bites and feelings of safety
I live in a neighborhood where many residents walk or run, often with dogs or children in strollers, or both. This past week, a couple was out walking their dogs when a very aggressive dog broke through its fence and attacked their dogs. They began to yell and two neighbors heard and ran out to assist. As they were forcing the aggressive dog back into its yard, the dog bit one of them quite seriously. This has precipitated intense email activity on our neighborhood email list.
The victim is terrified and is no longer enjoying her walks.
Others feel similarly and talk about being fearful and wanting the exact address of the offending dog so they can avoid the area.
Others (all male) have written in with observations about how unlikely it is to be bitten by a dog. They cite statistics [comparing the likelihood of a car accident with injury to a dog bite] and call for reason.
After each of these “rational and logical” posts, others (all female) would write in to say they were frightened too, they had experienced both dog bites and car accidents with injury and would take a car accident any day, and so on.
And finally, another (female) wrote in about the value of a community list where people can voice varying opinions and not be attacked for doing so.
When I read this opinion piece on “why we should choose science over beliefs” in Scientific American, I considered it in terms of the flurry of supportive, advice-giving, fearful, information-proffering, and group process comments on my neighborhood email list. Jurors often mirror this same dynamic. Some make decisions emotionally, some look to the data and evidence, some look to statistics and how likely this is to happen to ascertain foreseeability and risk for recurrence, and others mention how civil everyone is being and how it warms their heart to see justice in action. (That last group also tend to avoid making decisions, and just want everyone to be pleasant.)
The writer of the Scientific American article shares his frustration with the power of confirmation bias in our desire to hold on to whatever beliefs we held prior to hearing disconfirming evidence. As a life-long libertarian, he has found himself holding hard-line beliefs (on for example, gun control and climate change) but then once he reviewed the scientific literature–he realized his pre-existing beliefs were incorrect. He changed his mind. He wished others would also hear the truth he had discovered, so he shared his findings (and new beliefs) in two forums at “the largest gathering of libertarians in the world”. Were they receptive?
“In the climate debate, when I showed that between 90% and 98% of climate scientists accept anthropogenic global warming, someone shouted, “LIAR!” and stormed out of the room.”
He says it almost made him want to “turn in his libertarian membership card”. For those of us working in litigation advocacy who see the thought processes of deliberating jurors up close, the writer’s earnest plea may seem naïve. While it may be “better” to pay attention to the facts and the evidence and use those to modify our pre-existing beliefs, it just isn’t how things work. Put another way, you may be right but not persuasive.
We work routinely to identify ways to be heard and not have jurors (internally) shout “LIAR!” as case facts are presented. And alternately, we try to anticipate which potential jurors are most likely to be the “LIAR!” shouters, so we can anticipate how they will judge the case. It doesn’t have to be a case about something as controversial as climate change or gun control. It can be something as simple as a contract dispute, a disfiguring injury, an intellectual property issue, a divorce, or even an aggressive dog with a history of biting on your regular walking route. Some listeners will respond to facts and data. Everyone, except perhaps, the author of the Scientific American article, makes judgements in significant part based on emotions and feelings. You need to identify which reactions are elicited as you share the case narrative.