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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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Donald-TrumpDonald Trump has been getting a lot of press since he announced his candidacy for President. He is labeled a racist by critics, yet leads the polls of Republican presidential candidates. CNN has an explanation of why they think Trump continues to poll so well (he is attacking fellow Republicans and connecting with angry voters who are frustrated with political inaction), while others see his polling as reflecting his bombastic troll-like style, and the Huffington Post announced this week they will only cover his campaign as “entertainment” since it is certainly not politics. A new Gallup poll tells us Trump’s appeal may be short-lived since 75% Americans do not consider Trump to be a serious candidate (and only 3 in 10 view Trump favorably). He certainly is getting a lot of media attention though and today’s research tells us exactly why that happens.

It might be called the “Donald Trump effect” according to Pacific Standard’s website. The researchers doing the work don’t call it that though. They simply say that in the United States, politicians from the right are the most frequently quoted voices in news stories on immigration. They actually compared France, Norway and the United States but we are focused here on their US findings since the Donald Trump candidacy is receiving so much coverage.

In the US, the research focused on the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today,, and from January 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. The time frame was chosen since this represented a time period when unauthorized immigration was a popular news topic in all three countries. Essentially, the researchers counted up the comments on immigration and noted who made the comments. Compared to European publications where the primary theme of immigration stories was problems facing immigrants due to restrictive and inhumane national laws—American publications tended to focus on a theme of problems caused for authorities by immigrants.

Here is some of what they found in the US publications listed above (percentages do not add to 100%):

45% of the quotes came from government officials

23% of the quotes were from right-leaning politicians

11% of the quotes were from left-leaning politicians

10% of the quotes were from immigration advocacy organizations

8% of quotes were from citizens and documented immigrants, and

5% of the quotes were from undocumented immigrants

The researchers say that how reporters choose who they will quote in stories tends to define the frame and focus of the articles/interviews. Thus, US articles tend to focus more on the problems caused for authorities by undocumented immigrants (while European publications tended to focus more on problems of the immigrants). The researchers also say that the “debate” in the US is not so much a developing debate as it is a “shouting match” wherein voices tend to speak in chorus (as encouraged by political party “talking points”) rather than actually responding to the content of opposing viewpoints.

It’s definitely a hot-button issue, in some areas more than others. Living and working a fair amount in Texas, we hear the question a lot: “Are they legal?”. This paper is an intriguing look at differences between press coverage of hot-button issues in the three countries, but from a litigation advocacy perspective it is also an intriguing study of the way the general public is exposed to information about immigration.

If the loudest voices are those of right-leaning politicians, it makes sense that jurors (and all of us, in truth) are going to have heard those arguments (that immigrants make trouble for the authorities) more than any other arguments on immigration.

It then makes sense that when your case involves immigration issues, you test (pretrial) for not only attitudes toward immigration generally, but also for beliefs about whether immigrants are more a problem for the authorities or if the laws are so restrictive they cause a problem for immigrants.

Benson, R., & Wood, T. (2015). Who Says What or Nothing at All? Speakers, Frames, and Frameless Quotes in Unauthorized Immigration News in the United States, Norway, and France American Behavioral Scientist, 59 (7), 802-821 DOI: 10.1177/0002764215573257


Comments Off on The Donald Trump Effect:  Press coverage can determine public opinion and maybe election outcomes

humble-bragOh the “humblebrag”. It’s really not that long since career counselors were suggesting interview questions asking about weaknesses could be turned to the candidate’s advantage by responding about an alleged weakness that was really a strength. (“Weakness? I think I tend to be perfectionistic. I just can’t send in a report without double-checking it for spelling, grammar, and content errors.”) Alas, times change and now the humble brag is looked at with disdain.

We were pleased to see one of our favorite research groups publish a working paper on the art of humble bragging. And even more pleased to see the results of their work mirror the work on humble bragging we published in May of this year: it doesn’t work so just stop it. It is obnoxious. Ultimately, they say that if you want a self-promotion strategy, outright bragging is more effective than the deceptive humble bragging. Why? Because you are [oddly] seen as sincere when you brag.

They did five experiments in total:

First, they collected humblebrags from a Twitter account publishing them and asked a couple of (yes, that would be two) raters to indicate how likable, competent and sincere they thought the person who’d tweeted the humble brag was in real life. Then they were asked if they thought the person was complaining and if they thought the person might be humble bragging (showing off in the guise of a complaint).

The [two] raters didn’t like humble braggers  and did not see them as either sincere or competent. The researchers concluded that those who humble brag are seen as less likable, less sincere and less competent. [While this makes intuitive sense, we wish they had used more than two raters. In essence, we consider the character assessment aspect of this study to be without value.]

Second, the researchers examined humble bragging in job interviews. They gave 122 undergraduate students (67% female and average age 21.34 years) instructions to write detailed responses to the question “What is your weakness?” as though they were in a job interview. Then they asked the participants to explain the reason for their response (“Why would you answer the question, ‘What is your weakness?’ in this manner?”). Again, they had two raters analyze the resulting open-ended responses for humble bragging and whether the participant answered the second question that they were being honest (“This really is my weakness”) or strategic (“I want to get hired”) in their response.

77% of the participants chose to humble brag and just 23% gave a real weakness. (Just for your edification, the most common humble brag ‘weaknesses’ were identified as perfectionism, working too hard, being too nice and helpful, and being too fair and honest.) The [two] raters preferred the honest candidates who gave a real weakness.

Third, the researchers examined the effectiveness of humble bragging in comparison with both complaining and bragging when it comes to how much others like the person either bragging, complaining or humble bragging. For this experiment, 302 online research participants (average age 36.97 and 41.5% female) were told they would be evaluating another person. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three conditions: complain (“I am so bored”), brag (“People mistake me for a model”), or humble brag (“I am so bored of people mistaking me for a model”). The participants viewed the statements (based on the condition they’d been assigned to) and then rated how likable, sincere, and credible they thought the person saying this was.

As before, humble braggers were viewed more negatively than those who just brag outright and those who complained. Also again, humble braggers were seen as being insincere compared to the braggarts and complainers.

Fourth, the researchers examined whether humble bragging would affect how others perceive you. For example, someone who humble brags about “the problem with having graduated from two universities is that you get double the calls looking for donations” — may be seen as not very likable (due to the humble brag) but simultaneously as intelligent (despite the humble brag since she did graduate from two different universities). So the researchers wanted to see if the cost (being disliked) outweighed the benefit (an increase in perceived intelligence) when you humble brag. Again, they used an online sample of 201 (average age 35 years, 34.3% female) and assigned half to a brag condition (“I get hit on all the time”) and half to a humble brag condition (“Just rolled out of bed and still get hit on all the time, so annoying”). Noteworthy in this experiment is that the average age of the test subjects was 35, and the dilemma faced by the bragging conditions is the nuisance of being viewed as sexually attractive. Between the use of two raters for critical judgments and now this gaffe, we are tempted to wonder about the judgment of the researchers. But still, it is interesting. As before, the participants were asked how much they liked the person saying these things, how sincere they thought s/he was and finally, how attractive.

As before, humble braggers were seen as less likable, less sincere, and even less attractive than the braggers. The researchers concluded that humble bragging just has no real benefits. You really are better off bragging.

Finally, the (likely tired by now) researchers wanted to find out if people not only disliked the humble bragger but also treated them “less positively”. And this time, the researchers used actual cold, hard cash. Well, actually it was “virtual cash” but the idea is the same. We think. Anyway, the researchers used 154 online participants (average age 33.26 years and 35.1% female) and another 154 undergraduate students (average age 21.38 years and 70.5% female) The participants in each group were given pairs of statements (either humblebrags or outright brags) they were told came from their experimental partner and asked to rate likability, and sincerity and then to determine how they would split $5 between themselves and the (non-existent) person who’d allegedly written the comments.

Those research participants paired with humble braggers kept more of the $5 for themselves while this did not happen with the braggarts. As you have guessed by now, humble braggers are seen as insincere and that results in less likability and that results in (in this case) stingier (and meaner) treatment.

The researchers seem to think they’ve done enough work to show you that humble bragging just doesn’t work and is not useful (they go so far as to say it is “uniquely ineffective”) for impression management. We can’t speak to this being a “uniquely ineffective” strategy, but the lack of sincerity shown by the humble bragger results in quick dislike.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this has definite implications for both self-presentation and witness preparation.

Avoid humble bragging in your casual asides while in the courtroom and closely listen for humble bragging in witnesses. Sure, be proud of yourself, your company, what you have accomplished, but in a subdued way. The goal for both witnesses and attorneys is to be a likable source of useful information and to avoid aggravating your audience.  The instant dislike these researchers find for humble braggers is enough for us to recommend you watch for this increasingly ubiquitous self-promotion (in both yourself and while preparing witnesses) and avoid the negative costs in the courtroom.

Sezer, O., Gino, F., & Norton, M. (2015). Humblebragging: A Distinct And Ineffective Self-Presentation Strategy SSRN Electronic Journal DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2597626


Comments Off on “I am so tired of people mistaking me for a model!” [#humblebrag]

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”.


Comments Off on Are jurors more skeptical of police on the witness stand now? 

TVNewsLogoSo here’s a voir dire fantasy: When race is salient to your case, strike for cause all potential jurors who say they watch their local television news. For what cause?

Because they’re more likely to be racist—at least according to today’s research.

Local news coverage tends to focus on crime according to the researchers and they tend to cover crimes committed by African-Americans all out of proportion to their actual occurrence in the local community. The regular local TV News viewer might therefore be under the impression that African-Americans are a significant and dangerous criminal element in their community—and that impression is a distortion of the actual criminal activity engaged in by African-Americans in their community.

To test the hypothesis embedded in the previous sentence, researchers asked participants how many hours of local news coverage they watched on a daily basis. What they found was striking:

The more local news participants watched, the higher they scored on the Implicit Association Test (a measure of unconscious bias that we’ve written about  before).

In other words, regular exposure to stereotypical television news increases negative implicit biases in the viewer (which can, in turn, say the researchers, alter explicit attitudes and result in discriminatory behavior). This research finding is supported by a recent Media Matters report looking at local TV News coverage of crime (see graphic at right) as well as what the authors describe as a “substantial body of [additional] research” on biased news coverage. What is less clear is whether people who watch these news sources are “made more biased” by the reporting that they watch, or whether they watch the news because it reinforces the beliefs they already held.

media matters insertFrom a litigation advocacy perspective, it’s an intriguing issue. If we know that watching local news corresponds to higher levels of implicit biases (biases of which we are unaware), which increase likelihood of explicit biases (biases of which we’re aware) which, in turn, can result in discriminatory actions—would that not be an important variable to assess? It is at least of interest at the pretrial level to see if the report of local news viewing is related to eventual verdict. Hmmm. Perhaps jurors don’t need to watch the news during the trial to be affected by it; maybe it is telling that they watched local news during the week prior to jury duty.

Arendt, F, & Northup, T (2015). Effects of long-term exposure to news stereotypes on implicit and explicit attitudes. International Journal of Communication,, 9, 732-751



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