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evangelicosAt least those are the findings of the Religious Understandings of Science (RUS) study which is based on a “nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans”. Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), this study (completed in early 2014) hit the media about a year later. Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund conducted the study and says evangelicals are actually less conflicted about the relationship between religion and science than are many (non-evangelical) Americans.

Here are some of her findings:

60% of evangelical Protestants (and 38% of all surveyed) believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations”

50% of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another—as compared to only 38% of Americans

18% of scientists attend weekly religious services—as compared to 20% of the general US population

15% of scientists consider themselves “very religious” while 19% of the general population would describe themselves this way

13.5% of scientists read religious texts weekly as compared with 17% of the US population

19% of scientists pray several times a day as compared with 26% of the US population

11% of evangelical Protestants consult a religious text or religious leader for questions about science while less than half that number in the US population would do the same

We are offering this information to our readers to familiarize you with the study, in anticipation that you may encounter other references to it. It has what appear to us to be some serious flaws. To say the least, some of the findings are curious. The proportion of people believing scientists should incorporate miracles into their theories or explanations is particularly odd, and raises significant questions about the research sample and methodology. Our pretrial research is conducted without regard to religious orientation, but we pay attention to it since it might be a variable of which our clients need to be aware. And over the past twenty years, we’ve watched the number of mock jurors who attend religious services regularly dwindle. Our experience of observing these shifts in our randomly selected mock jurors deviates dramatically from Ecklund’s sample.

So what do these survey results mean? It’s complicated. Some point to the Ham-on-Nye debate as highlighting the conflicts between science and religion—even though some say Nye won the debate handily. A recent post on ScienceDaily’s website tells us that scientists have impact on the public’s perceptions of the relationship between religion and science—and scientists who are not atheists will win more people over to their way of seeing things—at least, according to Ecklund who was quoted in the story.

Given that there are more people in the U.S. population (and hence in our data) who would identify as a Christian than atheist, Collins is likely to have more impact with that audience,” Ecklund said. Ecklund said that the experiment’s findings have important implications for how institutions and their representatives shape public opinion.

A few points to consider are that this study evidently had a disproportionately high representation of evangelical Christians for it to reflect American society as a whole. When miracles are considered part of the science debate (setting aside the question of what is meant by “miracle”) many would consider the problems to be large. If by “miracle”, this is limited to a divine role in the creation of the universe, or even as the nexus of the “big bang”, it probably gets higher acceptance. But if this is taken to apply to the evolution/creationism debate, acceptance of biblical literalism, and divine intervention in daily lives, the conflicts between science and evangelical religion get more shrill.  Before we can accept these findings, it is important to understand what is meant by “religious” in the findings shared above, what beliefs are elements of an “evangelical” and what is meant by “scientist”. It is not clear from reading the study summary how Evangelicals see science and religion working together. Does that mean the power of prayer is real, or does it mean that they consider creationism a scientific explanation?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think it’s important to know about this study but we are not sure it matters as you go to the courtroom. To the extent that her survey data is valid, it describes beliefs and attitudes that you should understand as you approach trials.  Some courts are shy about allowing questions regarding religious beliefs, and if so, the questions during voir dire need to be couched in terms of strongly held beliefs or devotion or faith (trigger words for many) to a code of beliefs relevant to the issues at trial. This study focuses on evangelical beliefs, not merely religious people. But a lot of devoutly religious people are somewhat fatalistic (“it is God’s will”) or highly moralistic in ways that either reject passing judgment on others (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses) or affirm passing judgment on others as their role in doing God’s will by representing God’s moral code as they believe it.

In any of these circumstances, it is crucial that a trial attorney understands the extent to which religious beliefs will color a person’s view of the facts, or indeed, whether those beliefs will trump the instructions of the court. Instead of focusing on religious involvement or lack thereof, we tend to look at conservative affiliations to help us consider how the world is framed for any individual potential juror. The simple way of thinking of this is that everyone tends to hang around with others who are of similar beliefs. So if someone is a devout Unitarian, they are likely to see the world differently than someone who is devoutly evangelical. We like this article written by Gayle Herde for The Jury Expert in early 2014. Rather than focusing on whether someone is an evangelical, Herde encourages us to listen differently during voir dire in order to “hear” religiosity in an indirect way. It’s good advice.

Ecklund, EH, & Scheitle, C (2014). Religious Communities, Science, Scientists, and Perceptions:A Comprehensive Survey. Annual Meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


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We’ve written a few times about new research on Asian-Americans and so were eager to see a new chapter in a book on ethnic pluralism and its role in the 2008 election. It’s an intriguing treatise on the amazing diversity in the Asian-American community (composed of at least nine ethnic groups and 11 different religious affiliations).

Asian-American” doesn’t mean one thing. It means many things. According to the chapter authors (So Young Kim and Russell Jeung), Asian-Americans are unique among American ethnic groups in that they do not predictably act as either a racial bloc or a religious bloc. Asian-Americans do not share a religious faith and 27% do not follow any religion per se. And despite their high levels of education and income–they are not particularly politically involved. In fact, Asian-Americans may have lower levels of voting than other ethnic groups (although it is hypothesized this could shift as the various Asian-American groups log in more time in the US and begin establishing a stronger pan-ethnic identity).

What is especially interesting to us is that the authors found patterns in voting among Asian-Americans during the 2008 Presidential elections. Overall, Asian-Americans were more likely to support Barack Obama during the 2008 elections than Caucasian voters with similar incomes and religious affiliations. However, within the Asian-American group, there were subgroup patterns that call out for recognition:

Asian-Americans who were agnostic, atheist, Hindu or Muslim were more likely to vote for Barack Obama (and were also reportedly more liberal).

Asian-Americans who were Protestant and Catholic and more conservative also supported Obama. (You weren’t expecting that were you?)

Finally, Vietnamese-Americans (many of whom are Catholic) were more likely to vote for John McCain.

Another important descriptor the authors use is disenfranchised. Many Asian-Americans feel they are not valued (and truly, they have not been studied to the extent of other ethnic groups in this country) and this is likely an important variable to consider in terms of identification with your case.

Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism is a data-dense book with an emphasis on political shifts and ideology based on ethnicity (featuring chapters on mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Seculars, Women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans). What is most interesting from a litigation advocacy perspective is that this chapter shows us that we know a lot less than most of us think we know about Asian-Americans. There is not a blanket description of the Asian-American just as there is not a blanket description of American women, African-Americans, American Muslims or Jews, disabled people or other identifiable groups.

It’s a terrific reminder to not assume and to maintain curiosity about those different than us. They can often surprise you.

So Young Kim, Russell Jeung. 2012. Asian Americans, Religion and the 2008 Elections (Chapter 11). In Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism, Gastón Espinosa, Ed. Publisher: Routledge.


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Wearing your religion on your face

Monday, February 21, 2011
posted by Douglas Keene

We’ve talked before about mock jurors believing they can ‘see’ who is lying, using drugs, or other negative behaviors litigants (or anyone else!) would want to keep private. Now we have new evidence that some of those jurors may have good radar—at least when it comes to being able to identify certain religious group members!

It’s easy to ‘see’ some religious affiliations, especially those whose faith involves a high degree of integration of religious obedience and daily life. Think of the Amish and other religious groups who are identifiable by attire or facial hair or turbans or robes, or the attire of some Orthodox Jews, Sufis, or Muslims. But most of us are not wearing particular clothing or neat labels identifying religious affiliation. In fact, when asked, many of us even lie about just how often we attend religious services!

Consider, for example, the religious group of Mormons. Think you could pick them out of a crowd? Maybe you think you couldn’t. But the subjects in a recent study could! Even when their hair was removed, eyes and mouth covered, and images were turned upside down.  That’s pretty strange. Here’s how it worked.

Researchers examined the folklore around intuition and found strong perceptions that we can ‘know things’ about people just from their faces. We think, for example, we can identify sexual orientation, age, gender—and we are so frustrated when we cannot, or race. They cite research finding that people (both Mormon and non-Mormon) were able to identify un-labeled Mormon faces at a better than chance rate. This held true both in areas with large Mormon populations and in areas with few Mormons—although Mormons were better at identifying fellow Mormons than were non-Mormons.

Ultimately, the researchers decided to explore what it was about Mormon faces that facilitated identification to the observer. They went to fairly extensive lengths to include plain faces without piercings, extra earrings, or extreme haircuts and kept all photos within a younger age range, so as to make discrimination of Mormons/non-Mormons tough. They also had people simply observe parts of the faces (like the eyebrows) and attempt to identify the person as Mormon or not. (As you might imagine, eyebrows don’t tell you much.)

The researchers concluded that while participants were indeed able to categorize Mormons and non-Mormons more accurately than chance—they were seemingly unaware of their ability to do so. The categorization of Mormons appeared to be drawn largely from the quality of facial skin—since Mormons do not drink alcohol, smoke or drink caffeine. Participants apparently infer overall good health from what they observe of the skin and identify (accurately) the participant as Mormon. So it  wasn’t so much “Mormon” they were identifying, it was the attribution of what they thought of as a Mormon trait—“healthy”.

So what does this mean for litigation advocacy? The point of this post is that we all look at very subtle cues and inform ourselves about people. We make assumptions. We doubt there will be times when you are asking a jury to identify ‘who’s the Mormon’.   But you will be challenged to deal with perceptions that someone has led a healthy or unhealthy life, that they seem virtuous or dissipated.

Many of us have read the research that says we can perceive basic things about people in split seconds. Jurors do that too. They look at you. They look at your witnesses. They look at the parties. And, in the absence of other data, they form conclusions about gender, sexual orientation, good/bad habits, character, and whether you dye your own hair or have it done professionally. You need to control this interpretation by giving jurors understanding for what they see. If you do not, they will make up their own interpretations—and you have no way of knowing what they’ll ‘intuit’.

Rule NO, Garrett JV, & Ambady N (2010). On the perception of religious group membership from faces. PloS one, 5 (12) PMID: 21151864


TJE_logoWe’ve written for The Jury Expert a fair amount. In case you don’t know, The Jury Expert is the online journal published by the American Society of Trial Consultants dedicated to the art and science of litigation advocacy. Our articles in The Jury Expert are focused on litigation advocacy and meant to help you do your job with the latest information available. The last time we updated you on the articles we’ve written for The Jury Expert was in July of 2012. Take a look at what we’ve done in the past couple of years.

Loyalty, Longevity and Leadership: A Multigenerational Workforce Update: Our most recent article was written as we prepared for a large CLE presentation on the multigenerational law office. Do you wonder how to maximize the contributions of Baby Boomers, Gen X’rs and Millennials? This paper is as up to date as you can get on multigenerational issues in the workplace. Here’s a preview: “As we prepared for the mock trial research with mock jurors of varying generations, our client said, “50 year old GenXers?”. It’s hard to believe GenXers are really that old, but do the math—time has continued its inexorable march. Do that math a few more times and you will see the oldest Millennials are in their early thirties and the oldest Boomers are turning 70! It is easy to lose track of the passage of time and many of us tend to retain our outdated impressions of younger generations frozen in time. But they are growing older (just like we are) and changing as they mature. It’s imperative that we all keep our internal stereotypes up-to-date with reality in order to not be left behind with an outdated vision of who will come to interviews or even serve on our juries”.

Book Review: Law and Neuroscience: A book review from Rita on a reference book and textbook covering the fast changing world of neurolaw. As a voracious reader and a veteran scourer of electronic databases, I often prepare myself to be disappointed when opening newly published professional books since they are almost always out of date by the time they are published. This one is different. When I read the quote below, I grinned and realized this volume would not simply summarize, but also inform readers and encourage the development of critical thinking through the relaying of case narratives and interpretation of research and law that is naturally engaging to those of us with an interest in the area.

“Even if fMRI could reliably diagnose psychopathy, it wouldn’t necessarily reduce a defendant’s culpability in the eyes of a judge or a jury. Ultimately, the law is based on an individual’s rational, intentional action, not brain anatomy or blood flow”, says Stephen Morse, professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “Brains don’t kill people. People kill people,” says Morse.

Demographic Roulette: What Was Once a Bad Idea Has Gotten Worse: We wrote this paper based on new survey data that said (to us) what we’ve been saying for years: “You can’t deselect (or select) jurors based on demographic information.” Here’s a peek: “Almost eighty years following Clarence Darrow’s distillation of how religion shapes jury behavior, the belief that demographics could be the holy grail for the selection of jurors persists. It is routine for our [attorney] clients to comment, in the midst of a mock juror deliberation, “Well, it looks like older women are good for us!” and for the associates to quickly add this to their notes for use in the upcoming jury selection. The lingering hope that demographics could predict a juror’s eventual vote represents a pesky and persistent belief. Too bad it’s rarely true.”

Book Review- Social Media as Evidence: Cases, Practice Pointers, and Techniques: Another book review from Rita—this one on social media issues. Here’s a little from the introduction: “The social media landscape shifts quickly and keeping up with changes in platforms, privacy settings, and case law is more than a full-time job. Websites used for juror research may be purchased by other websites and, suddenly, their results are identical. You can spend hours doing painstaking research and inadvertently “make contact” with a juror because you don’t understand how different social media websites notify users of who has looked at their social media profiles. You may think you are being very, very careful, and yet leave a trail behind you—sometimes called “cyber crumbs” or “electronic footprints” that can unintentionally identify you as having peered into the social media life of someone you (likely) do not know.”

The “Why” and “How” of Focus Group Research: Doug wrote this one for an issue of The Jury Expert prior to beginning to publish online. It’s been re-published as part of an issue on articles that stand the test of time. Here’s a sample: “Properly conducted focus groups are extremely useful in getting reactions to a wide array of aspects of the case. While it is not prudent to expect that the “verdict” of a small group research project will be repeated at trial, it is very likely that the same values, hot buttons, and sensibilities that engage the research group will resonate in the jury room”.

Intergenerational Law Offices, Intergenerational Juries: Values, Priorities, and Decision-Making: Another in the series of articles we’ve written on multigenerational issues—this one focused on the office and the courtroom. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in this article: “The legal blawgosphere has been filled with anecdotal tales of what is termed “generational conflict” for years now. Based on conversations with our clients, contentious inter-generational interaction is not just out there “on the web”. It’s everywhere. We’ve written extensively on issues related to generations–both in the courtroom and in the office. As litigation consultants, we hear senior partners aiming sharp criticism toward both younger jurors and younger lawyers (especially new law school graduates), and we see the associates roll their eyes and grit their teeth at the disrespect they feel from some partners. The work ethic of the younger attorneys (judged as inadequate by older attorneys) is blamed for their trouble in finding jobs. “If they were not so lazy”, the opinion seems to go, and “if they did not want instant success, they wouldn’t have such a tough time finding work.” It is, in short, their own fault they are unemployed. They have bad values. Or so it is said by many of their elders. Especially the subgroup of employers, supervisors, and– occasionally– parents. But is that accurate? It turns out that it’s likely untrue.”

“Only the Guilty Would Confess to Crimes”: Understanding the Mystery of False Confessions. We wrote this paper as we researched the literature about false confessions in preparation for a case involving a man who spent 8 years on death row for a crime he had nothing to do with. This published about the time the documentary “Central Park Five”  came out, and it’s been consistently accessed by readers since then. Here’s an introductory view: “It is naturally hard to understand why anyone would confess to a crime they had not committed. Yet, in North America we can trace false confessions back to at least 1692 and the Salem Witch Trials where “large numbers of mostly women were tried for witchcraft on the basis of confessions extracted by torture and threats” (Kassin, 2010). More than 300 years later, people continue to falsely confess to crimes ranging from academic cheating to murder. But the mystery of why someone would falsely confess persists. Unlike the Salem Witch Trials, most false confessions today are provided under psychological duress, but without torture or threats of physical harm. Do the generally accepted modern police methods still produce false confessions, or does the responsibility for false confession fall entirely on the confessor? There is a tendency to believe “others” might well confess under duress–but most people think they, themselves, would never do such a thing (Horgan, Russano, Meissner & Evans, 2012). This belief illustrates the reality that most of us have no idea of what it feels like to undergo an interrogation. More than 80% of those taken into custody by the police waive their Miranda rights (Sangero & Halpert, 2011)”.

Book Review: Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations: Another book review from Rita—this one reviewing false confessions research. Here’s some thoughts from early in the review: “This is a collection of chapters written by well-known scholars in the area of false confessions and police interrogations. A review of the Table of Contents shows a stimulatingly broad range of topics. You will find the expected reviews of research on police interrogations and false confessions and then everything from juvenile interrogations, the difference between false confessions and false guilty pleas (which takes you into the shadowy arena of plea bargains), chapters on recording the interrogation (one of which educates on camera angles that reduce observer bias), how to most effectively give the oral Miranda warning, the expert witness (including identification of the five most common challenges to expert testimony and suggestions for refuting those challenges), and a whole lot more.”

Hydraulic Fracking & The Environment: Juror Attitudes, Beliefs, and Priorities:  We were hired to work on fracking cases for both Plaintiffs and Defendants, and in preparing to address the complex and highly charged issues associated with fracking we discovered that information on attitudes toward fracking was hard to find for mere mortals. And what you did find was often driven by political agendas more than science. Here’s a description of what you’ll find in this paper: “In this paper we generally describe typical positions taken by both Plaintiffs and Defendants, but we will not attempt to weigh the scientific evidence that is typically presented in the toxic tort actions. Instead, we will focus attention on jurors, and the related concerns that litigants are going to face from jurors before the first word is spoken. Americans are consistently concerned about the environment, especially the environment of their own ‘backyard’. This concern is seen in surveys done at national, state, and local levels. As is typical in surveys, the closer the issue is to the respondent’s individual life circumstances, the more concern they express. “

Book Review: The Science of Attorney Advocacy: Rita wrote this book review in July, 2012. Here’s how the review starts: “This is an academic book written in a very accessible style with limited jargon and lots of information as to what advocacy lore is supported (and what is not supported) by the research literature. The book covers a wide variety of topics: attorney demeanor, attorney verbal communication as well as paralinguistic and kinesic communications (all are defined), the attorney-client relationship and attorney storytelling.”


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sc-police-shoots-unarmed-man-800Police and firefighters earned a major boost in respect and credibility after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. We routinely saw mock jurors expressing admiration and a belief that the police or firefighter client, witness or party was telling the truth. More recent news, however, has left many more suspicious of police officers’ testimony and sparked a movement: #BlackLivesMatter.

The Washington Post recently published an analysis of fatal police shootings from 2015 (almost 400 nationwide so far this year) and reported some disturbing facts:

About half those shot by police were white, half minority. But the demographics shifted sharply among those who were unarmed when shot, two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic. Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting for the demographics of the census where the shootings occurred.

Ninety-two victims — nearly a quarter of those killed — were identified by police or family members as mentally ill.

Thus far, just three of the 485 fatal shootings have resulted in police officers being charged with a crime (less than 1%). This low rate of criminal charges against the police involved in fatal shootings mirrors the findings of a Post investigation in April that found that of thousands of fatal police shootings over the past decade, only 54 had produced criminal ­charges. Typically, those cases involved layers of damning evidence challenging the officer’s account. Of the cases resolved, most officers were cleared or acquitted.

NPR also recently wrote about the issues surrounding death while in police custody—including Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, and Walter Scott among others. Even CNN reviewed the deaths, highlighting a number of additional men who died in police custody. Many of us [particularly those who are not African-American] have watched the news reports and videos of police officers shooting or otherwise harming/killing unarmed African-American men and wondered whether this has been happening all along and is just now coming to public awareness. Those in the African-American community likely wonder how we could not know, but also likely appreciate the growing awareness and concern across the country.

So it wasn’t really a surprise to see an article from the Detroit Free Press questioning whether police officers on the witness stand are facing more skeptical juries. This article focuses on how the recent plethora of news stories on deaths (especially of African-American men) in police custody has affected perception of police testimony. Just as police officers were imbued with a sort of ‘halo effect’ after 9/11/2001, perhaps they now have the opposite of that—regardless of how unfair that may be to the individual officer.

The Free Press article is useful for identifying questions you will want to cover in planning witness preparation or cross-examination. As one defense attorney quoted in the Free Press article says, “Maybe the scales are just being tipped back to where they’ve always belonged”.


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