You are currently browsing the archives for the Case Preparation category.

Follow me on Twitter

Blog archive

We Participate In:

You are currently browsing the archives for the Case Preparation category.

ABA Journal Blawg 100!

Subscribe to The Jury Room via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Archive for the ‘Case Preparation’ Category

anti-scienceApparently it’s all about motivated reasoning and uncertainty. When people hear new research findings that are unfamiliar or hear new findings that contradict what they already believe—they are likely to feel uncertain and confused. When you feel that way, it is unpleasant and you want to get back to feeling certain and clear about how things are (whether you are accurate or not).

A nation-wide (Taiwanese since the researcher is located in Taiwan) telephone survey was conducted to check the accuracy of the hypotheses that if reports of new research findings leave you uncertain and confused, you will discount the credibility of the source and have a more negative attitude toward research. Participants in the national telephone survey were only told the headlines of the report and not the contents of the actual stories themselves.

What they found was that the more novel or unfamiliar the research report, the less credible it was seen as being and the less likely participants were to say they would comply with the findings.

When contradictory headlines were presented [think of these as akin to dueling expert witnesses disagreeing with each other], they were rated as less credible and participants were less likely to say they would comply with the research findings.

Then the researcher wanted to see what would happen if participants actually read the entire story rather than headlines alone. They conducted two separate experiments using university students as participants—one experiment exposed the participants to novel versus familiar findings and the other exposed them to contradictory [e.g., dueling experts who disagree with each other] versus one-sided stories [e.g., only one expert testifies so participants do not know the other side of the story].

The researcher found that when participants were exposed to novel/unfamiliar research stories, they saw the information as less credible and were less likely to report plans to adopt the recommendations from the study.

When they were exposed to contradictory news, participants were less likely to have a favorable attitude toward health research than when they were exposed to one-sided news. Additionally, contradictory news was seen as less credible than the one-sided news.

The more unfamiliar and contradictory science presentations left participants defensive and uncertain and their attitudes toward health research became more negative than the attitudes of those who only saw familiar or one-sided research findings.

The researcher recommends that press releases describing research findings that are novel present their findings in context with the cumulative body of prior research and offer possible explanations for discrepancies with previous findings.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this reminds us an awful lot of what we do when we expect dueling expert witnesses on the stand. Jurors don’t like experts that contradict each other and they tend to toss both experts testimony out and rely on their intuition or idiosyncratic reactions to the experts (e.g., “He looked sort of like Newt Gingrich. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing” or “His mustache reminds me of my favorite high school teacher”). We often work with our expert witnesses to not only present information in a way jurors can understand, but to also explain the contradictions in the research and why our experts’ perspective is more accurate. If the research is unfamiliar or is likely to run counter to their previously held positions, it often works best to embrace the novelty—call it ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘a major step forward in scientific understanding’, etc.—rather than minimizing the difference. Jurors appreciate an expert who is credible, personable, and who wants to help them in the difficult task of understanding complex new information.

This research would say that experts who contradict each other leave jurors feeling uncertain and confused—which is what we see over and over again in our pretrial research. Rather than taking the chance they will simply base their decisions on idiosyncratic associations to the expert’s appearance or demeanor, work with the expert to place the research in context, explain contradictions or inconsistencies in the research literature, and teach the jurors what they need to know to make the best decisions possible. They’ll appreciate you for it.

Chang, C. (2015). Motivated Processing: How People Perceive News Covering Novel or Contradictory Health Research Findings Science Communication, 37 (5), 602-634 DOI: 10.1177/1075547015597914


Comments Off on Reports of novel or contradictory health research reduces public trust  in science

2015 conspiracy theoriesAccording to new research with a large sample from all across the United States, the answer is yes! If you have read this blog for long, you know we love a good conspiracy theorist and use their idiosyncratic associations in pretrial research to plug holes in case narratives.

The researchers briefly review the past literature on conspiracy beliefs as reflecting a desire for control of the uncontrollable. Then they wonder if “reaffirming a sense of control” could serve to decrease the strength of the (ostensibly no longer needed) belief in a conspiracy. They designed two studies and we’ll describe only the second since it was based on a US sample rather than a Dutch sample (the source for the first study).

In the second study, the researchers used an as yet unpublished dataset collected in 1999 (N = 1,256; 771 men and 479 women, 6 gender unknown; median age between 35 and 44 years, median level of education was a college degree and median household income was between $40K and $59K) as the world awaited the potentially harmful event known as the Y2K bug. If you don’t have a clear recollection of how frightened people were about this issue, this Time Magazine story describes the reality vividly. Participants were recruited from a number of internet sites (e.g., online experiment pages of several psychological societies, university websites, Yahoo (which was big in 1999) and Y2K relevant websites.

The data was collected in the last three months of 1999 and asked participants about their beliefs on the Y2K bug as well as their perceptions of the government’s trustworthiness and their beliefs in a range of “popular conspiracy theories (e.g., about the Kennedy assassination, about the cover-up of evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life, and various others)”. One of the “various other” conspiracy beliefs was the idea that Y2K was “an evil scheme by computer programmers and businesses to make money”.

Here is some of what they found:

Lower education level was associated with stronger belief in four out of five conspiracy theories.

The more the participants trusted the government, the less likely they were to believe in four out of five conspiracy theories.

Those participants who believed in the Y2K conspiracy were also more likely to believe in four out of five other conspiracy theories.

The more threatened participants felt by the Y2K bug, the more likely they were to believe in four out of five conspiracy theories.

The researchers say that when people (in 1999) felt threatened by the Y2K bug, their beliefs in other conspiracy theories were stronger. Yet, those who felt less threatened by the Y2K bug were less likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Since this was an old dataset, we cannot tell if those who were threatened by the Y2K bug were thus more likely to believe in conspiracy theories or if those who believed in conspiracies were more likely to see Y2K as a threat. The researchers point out that when things around us are unpredictable (as in uncertainty related to economic downturns, terrorist threats, or even climate change), beliefs in conspiracy theories increase. They see their study as validating the idea that our need for control is closely coupled with our tendency to believe in conspiracy theories.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, what this says is if there are conspiracy beliefs that arise based on your case narrative, you need to address those concerns, but you also need to find ways to give jurors a sense of control so they are less afraid and less in need of their conspiracy beliefs to help them sort out what happened. The fear of the unknown will drive many anxious people toward any convenient explanation, even if it has no foundation. Reassure them, and wild conjecture diminishes.

van Prooijen, J., & Acker, M. (2015). The Influence of Control on Belief in Conspiracy Theories: Conceptual and Applied Extensions Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29 (5), 753-761 DOI: 10.1002/acp.3161


Comments Off on Is there an effective strategy that reduces a conspiracy  theorist’s intense beliefs?

mexican-immigration1Donald Trump unleashed a divisive furor earlier this summer when he announced his candidacy for President while referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.

“I don’t see how there is any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the statement I made on June 16th during my Presidential announcement speech,” Trump wrote, adding, “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

Trump’s comments resulted in multiple allegations of racism and being “tone deaf” to the impact of his words on the listening audience. More recently, Gallup published a survey (a random sample of 508 Hispanics aged 18 and older living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia) showing that immigration status is tied to discrimination among Hispanics. It is well worth your time to review their entire report.

About 10% of US Hispanics (those born in the US and those born in other countries but now living in the US) report discrimination in the past month at their place of work, in dealings with the police, in healthcare, and in bars or restaurants. Slightly fewer (7%) say they felt discriminated against while shopping. Overall, at least 25% of Hispanics have felt discriminated against in at least one of these situations.

There are significantly different experiences with discrimination between those Hispanics who are US-born and those born outside the US. Those born outside the US are more likely to say they have experienced discrimination in each of the situations listed above (work, police, healthcare, bars and restaurants and shopping).

Foreign-born Hispanics are more likely to say they were treated less fairly at their workplace (18%) than US-born Hispanics (5%). Foreign-born Hispanics are five times more likely (15%) than US-born Hispanics (3%) to report discrimination due to ethnicity while receiving healthcare. Their reports of discrimination when dealing with police are much closer, with 8% of US-born Hispanics reporting discrimination compared to 12% of foreign-born Hispanics.

The National Academy of Sciences published a 400 page report on Sept. 21, detailing a huge effort to examine how well recent immigrants to the US are assimilating compared with those of previous eras. For a summary of the report, the New York Times has a worthwhile article about it. The conclusions are interesting and for the most part, reassuring. Among the more well-educated immigrants (such as those from Asia and Europe), educational attainment, identification with American culture, learning of English, and low crime rates prevailed. For Hispanic immigrants who typically come from educationally and economically impoverished circumstances, the same pattern is seen, but education and professional careers lag behind due to having started way behind. Researchers found that English is a struggle for most immigrants (especially those with lower education levels), but kids of the third generation (their parents were born in the US) for the most part don’t speak the language of the immigrant grandparents. They speak English.

In an odd twist, immigrants are far less likely to break the law than US citizens! By a factor of nearly 1:4, immigrants stay out of trouble far more successfully than most Americans. In fact, by that third generation mentioned above, the crime rates rise to levels similar to the general US frequencies. And finally, these patterns of success and assimilation are consistent with previous studies. There is no ‘new crisis’ on the borders. The problem there is attributed to immigrants, but in fact, it is due to drug runners on both sides of the border, a population that does not reflect the immigrant community at large.

We live and often work in Texas and the suspicion directed toward Hispanic parties in litigation is often a factor. We regularly hear “are they legal?” or other racist statements like “those Mexicans will do whatever you tell them to do”. If they are told a jury would not know if “they were legal”, the tendency is for them to presume that they are illegal, and awards plummet. Interestingly, this stands in contrast to a medical negligence case we worked on in Chicago five years ago. After the group deliberations were largely over (resulting in a very large award, later mirrored in the verdict of the trial court), the mock jurors were asked whether they had any thoughts about whether the mother of the child who was born following a botched delivery, was in the US legally or not. The jurors all assumed that she was here illegally. The assumption was so strong it didn’t even come up in the conversation. The difference is, that in Chicago 5 years ago, jurors didn’t care what her status was. In border states especially, immigration status is not likely to be ignored.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the uphill battle Hispanics tell Gallup they experience is akin to what we see in the suspicion of our mock jurors to parties of Hispanic origin. We’ve seen cases of blatant medical malpractice resulting in permanent and devastating injuries to children, the death of two children in a horrible fire caused by a faulty product, and the untimely death of a parent due to a lack of attention from healthcare professionals. All were horrible situations. And for each one, questions about their legal status drove down damages awarded.

In other words, it isn’t just Donald Trump. It’s probably many of us and you need to pay attention to how racial bias emerges when race/ethnicity is not salient to your case.


Comments Off on Discrimination against foreign-born Hispanics and  US-born Hispanics in the US

Climate changeWe blogged recently on how to talk about climate change without eliciting automatic (knee jerk) negative reactions from listeners. Shortly before that post, we blogged about scientific consensus on climate change as a gateway belief to persuasion. So we were happy to see a wonderfully clear writeup on the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication’s survey on American beliefs about climate change over at the Sociological Images blog.

The Yale researchers asked 13,000 Americans whether they thought the climate was changing and what they thought was causing climate change (if it indeed existed). They found that responses clustered in six separate types. Here’s how Sociological Images described those types [as defined by the Yale group]:

• The Alarmed (18%) – believe climate change is happening, have already changed their behavior, and are ready to get out there and try to save the world

• The Concerned (33%) – believe it’s happening, but think it’s far off or isn’t going to affect them personally

• The Cautious (19%) – aren’t sure if it’s happening or not and are also unsure whether it’s human caused

• The Disengaged (12%) –  have heard the phrase “climate change,” but couldn’t tell you the first thing about it

• The Doubtful (11%) – are skeptical that it’s happening and, if it is, they don’t think it’s a problem and don’t think it’s human caused

• The Dismissive (7%) – do not believe in it, think it’s a hoax

What is truly wonderful is they offer an interactive map so you can see how beliefs about climate change vary by state and even by county. While some might say this shows how different our beliefs are about climate change—one commenter at the blog says it shows how similarly we (for the most part) feel on the issues. It is well worth your time to take a look at Sociological Images post of the highlights of the Yale study and then, if you want to know more, take a look at the Yale site itself for the complete writeup.


Comments Off on What do (13,000) Americans really think about  climate change?

kinsey-scaleIllustrating this post is the Kinsey Scale of Sexual Behavior. As you can see, the scale asks people to describe themselves sexually on a scale ranging from “exclusively heterosexual behavior” to “exclusively homosexual behavior”. In the wake of Caitlyn Jenner’s emergence into the public eye, there’ve been many articles about gender identity and sexual preference as people attempt to sort out how a hyper-masculine Olympian has always felt like a woman on the inside.

A well-regarded polling company ( decided to ask 1,632 adults in Britain to simply place themselves on the Kinsey scale. They made some interesting discoveries about age and sexual identity.

72% of the British public identifies as “completely heterosexual” and 4% identify as “completely homosexual” while 19% say they are somewhere in between. (Kinsey classified the in-betweeners as “bisexual in varying degrees”.) Of those in the 19% in-between group, 15% are closer to the heterosexual end, 2% place themselves directly in the middle, and 2% are closer to the homosexual end of the scale.

However, reports that “with each generation, people see their sexuality as less fixed in stone”. They say the results for 18-24 year olds are particularly striking with “43% placing themselves” in the “in between” areas and 52% placing themselves at one end or the other. In this group 46% say they are “completely heterosexual” and 6% say they are “completely homosexual”.

The authors say that people (regardless of age) now accept the idea that sexual orientation is on a continuum (60% of heterosexuals and 73% of homosexuals support this idea) rather than a completely binary choice. They see this as indicative of an increasing open-mindedness to sexuality.

The full results of the study can be seen here. In the first URL, you can see from the intensity of the comments that this entire idea remains one which inflames the senses for some people.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is important information of which to be aware. While Caitlyn Jenner’s very public transition has precipitated a national (and perhaps international) discussion on sexual identity and sexual orientation, the bottom line is that younger jurors may well have more fluid definitions of their individual sexual orientation. It’s one more thing to remain cognizant of as you present cases where sexual identity may or may not be an issue.


Comments Off on Who among the British people is 100% heterosexual?