Archive for the ‘Economic downturn’ Category
Sometimes stuff just comes up that we think you need to know but it isn’t enough to fill an entire blog post. This is one of those times. Think of it as things you didn’t know you needed to know until you knew it!
Why do we love it so? Well. M&Ms are not only in focus group facilities waiting to ensnare the frustrated trial attorney watching mock jurors behind darkened glass. They also apparently lurk in rat mazes to see why chocolate so appeals (to us and to those rat stand-ins for us). As it turns out, chocolate is like opium for rats. And presumably, it’s a bit like opium for us as well. I, for one, would be quite willing to gorge myself on M&Ms for the good of science. So, we’re thinking maybe someone should do some research on what is really in Starbuck’s coffee!
Does your non-working nose mean you’re a psychopath?
We’ve written about psychopaths here before and they are a pretty scary bunch. But now we have a simple test for you to use at home to determine whether you are potentially a psychopath. How’s your sense of smell?
Psychopaths seem to have a very poor sense of smell. [Wow. I want to be in the court the first time a detective testifies that the suspect’s inability to smell was one of the tip-offs to their guilt!] Researchers think this is a good test to use since expectations of performance are unclear and the subject may be less able to fake good (or bad) responses. Of course, this research doesn’t mean just because you have a poor sense of smell that you are a psychopath. You could also have schizophrenia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. We thought that was reassuring. Oh– plus, seasonal allergies can also be a factor.
Annoying co-workers? There are actual benefits to this! Be thankful.
While you may not have a Dwight Schrute in your office, you may have someone equally odd, annoying, or even deviant. New research focuses on the benefits you may gain from working with oddballs–even when they are very annoying. Specifically, in comparison to the deviant coworker–you can feel better about yourself. That’s always a good thing, e.g., “I’m an idiot, but at least I’m not that idiot!”. Second, by observing other’s reactions to the deviant colleague, you can gain invaluable information as to unwritten workplace norms. If this doesn’t bring you a sense of gratitude for your own odd coworkers, you might try buying them lunch.
Think you’re better off up-front in that plane?
Whoa. Think again. ChartPorn has come to your rescue by publishing a visual of the safest seats on a commercial jet. To do this, they looked at a review of every commercial jet crash in the US since 1971 where there were both fatalities and survivors. That’s pretty thorough. And the verdict? Sit in the rear and arrive alive! Hmmm. You might also want to check the directional capabilities of your pilot.
It’s the economy!
Along with the other bad news on the economy in the US for the past few years, here’s another feel-bad fact from our friends at the Atlantic. Income inequality is worse in the US today than it was in 1774. Yes. 1774. Not a typo. Although the Atlantic says this isn’t as demoralizing as it sounds–they are totally right as to how demoralizing it sounds. As they say, America is richer and better off today than we were 240 years ago. (That’s good news, right?) There are, however, sharper delineations between the have’s and have-nots (the 99%) today than there were then. It reminds us of another (and more uplifting) story we saw in the Atlantic recently. Sometimes, it seems like things are getting better.
Mehmet K. Mahmut, & Richard J. Stevenson (2012). Olfactory Abilities and Psychopathy: Higher Psychopathy Scores Are Associated with Poorer Odor Discrimination and Identification. Chemosensory Perception. DOI: 10.1007/s12078-012-9135-7
Few things are as frightening to us as the idea that our drinking water is contaminated. But this fear is a cornerstone of the debate as to whether hydro-fracking is the answer to our need for energy self-reliance or the slippery slope to contaminated drinking water and health declines for those living around hydro-fracking areas.
Hydraulic fracking [aka hydro-fracking] is a technique of recovering natural gas from underground geological formations that would otherwise not be sufficiently productive to be economical. By injecting fluids (water and chemicals) under high pressure into the gas well, fractures in the rock develop. After the injection procedure is complete, a successful hydraullic fracking procedure (also commonly referred to as “hydraulic fracturing”, “hydro-fracking”, “fracking” or “fracing”) results in higher rates of gas flow into the bore hole, and a more productive well.
It is unquestionably a very successful procedure for increasing well production, and one that has become heavily utilized in recent years. Since this technique has been employed, public concern over environmental impact on drinking water has skyrocketed in the gas field areas. Some local water supplies have developed a terrible taste. Others carry chemical concentrations in ground water that had not been previously noted.
The debate around hydro-fracking and the potential for ground water contamination as well as possible health impact is emotionally powerful. Proponents say fracking is misunderstood and it is a safe technique for accessing deeply buried energy resources. Opponents say we need to know more about the impact and that any risk to health and groundwater safety is too high.
We have a paper in the just released issue of The Jury Expert on hydro-fracking and the environment. In this paper, we generally describe typical arguments by both Plaintiffs and Defendants, but we will not attempt to weigh the scientific evidence that is typically presented in these 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.
We use random surveys of registered voters, likely voters and citizens of various states to illustrate varying and similar attitudes in states where hydro-fracking is actively being done, actively being considered, or where it will likely not be done. We first looked at this topic about a year ago and little was publicly available. Now, the information available has exponentially increased as media attention has begun to carefully scrutinize the safety and environmental impact of the practice.
Take a look at our article and let us know what you think of it.
Recently, a client sent us a link to a political ad run by Texan US Senate candidate David Dewhurst. The ad essentially attacks Dewhurst’s opponent (Ted Cruz, an attorney) for representing a Chinese company in an intellectual property lawsuit with an American company. Ted Cruz is painted as a “China sympathizer” who is guilty of helping the Chinese steal American jobs. The ad has gotten heavy airplay all over Texas, and the coverage of the dispute related to it has raised the prominence of the controversy even more.
It made us think about several recent projects where bias against Asians was expressed in a joking fashion by various mock jurors. But it was clear that the joking tone was a thin veil for attitudes that were not at all funny. All of the cases involved intellectual property (patents or trade secrets) and the accusations that the Asian entity had reverse-engineered the American IP unfairly. The merits of the cases are one level of analysis, but more prominent was the readiness of most jurors to find guilty conduct in these Asian parties in a way that speaks of confirmation bias.
As many readers of our blog are aware, confirmation bias is the tendency we all have of seeing the world as we believe it to be. People remember evidence that confirms their attitudes and biases, and have weaker recall for contradictory points. Someone with such a bias may say “Because of [X fact], I think the Defendant should pay the Plaintiff”, but you are able to rebut their reliance on [X fact] absolutely. They reply not by changing their conclusion, but by changing their justifying argument. Often, this pattern is an indication of confirmation bias, not of the power of the evidence itself. When I was in graduate school, we referred to this as “drawing the curve before you plot the data”.
In one project, the plaintiff was a very successful American businessman with a Middle Eastern last name, and was suing a major retailer, alleging that they knowingly purchasing and sold black market counterfeit products manufactured in Asia. Given the last name of the plaintiff, we were expecting racism. And we saw it. Interestingly, the racist comments were directed at Asian countries who were (in the minds of jurors) counterfeiting the [American] products and profiting off the backs of a good [American] product name. Slurs were directed (all in a seemingly joking fashion) at China, Korea and Asian countries in general. When questioned about these comments and the basis for them, our mock jurors denied the importance of the comments and then made additional racist comments–again, veiled as jokes.
In another case, a Chinese scientist invited himself to an American university to ‘study’ with an established inventor. While there, the Chinese scientist copied documents and beat the American inventor to the US patent office by filing a patent through his Chinese company with stolen documents. The Chinese scientist later wrote a letter to the American inventor apologizing for his own poor manners and ethics. Again, we heard slurs and stereotypes about Asians being not trustworthy, sneaky, ethically challenged and more. And again, there was no explanation for this from the mock jurors other than additional “joking” comments.
Since we are based in Texas, it might be tempting to say “Wow, those Texas rednecks are pretty closed-minded”. [We would then encourage you to consider the bias implicit in that belief…] But in fact, we conduct research all over the country, and IP cases from coast to coast. The same pattern applies all over. Ethnocentrism is thriving in every community, as it has forever. Globalization is only a good thing if you, your family, and your friends all have the jobs they want.
As we have discussed in other posts about racism and ethnocentrism, people usually deny racial bias, but if the question becomes one of “What do you think your neighbors and co-workers would think about this [racially loaded] issue?”, the jurors often warn us that the minority party is facing a difficult burden due to race. Obviously, such a person doesn’t want to be seen as racist, but doesn’t mind us knowing that their best friends are racist. Not too wily.
Despite recent surveys depicting a positive sense of each other by American and Chinese citizens, we have been seeing a different picture from our American mock jurors for the past few years.
Perhaps it’s due to the flagging economy and perceptions of China overtaking the US as a global superpower.
Perhaps it’s fear of the Asian intelligence that apparently leads to discrimination against Asians in our educational institutions.
Perhaps it’s the leftover stereotypes from 1960’s James Bond movies portraying Asian men as super-villains.
Perhaps it is a combination of all those factors.
Whatever the reason, we are regularly reminded of the need to carefully prepare Asian and Asian-American witnesses for testimony in American courtrooms, and to carefully prepare trial teams on strategies for dealing with overt and covert anti-Asian bias. Just as we carefully prepare other “different” witnesses–whether they be atheists, homosexuals, powerful women, African Americans or Muslims. We focus on clarity of communication (using translators if necessary) and how to introduce the witnesses to the jury so they are seen as trustworthy and credible. Without making that connection, their testimony is corrupted by bias that can creep in and define the witness.
It appears that when bias against Asians is used in high-profile political campaigns, it has achieved mainstream acceptance, and we should all be paying close attention. Running the anti-Ted Cruz ad is estimated to have cost more than $600,000 and we’re guessing money like that isn’t thrown around “just in case” there are a few voters out there who are biased against Asians.
In the middle (of the end?) of a financial crisis, bloggers and commentators have been wondering about how it will affect the outcome of trials. Will awards go up or go down? Will jurors take out their anger defendants, or be sympathetic to some and harsher to others? Based on what we’ve seen in mock trials and actual trials over the past six months, we have concluded that, as always, it depends on the merits of the case, how the case is presented, and how well you do in selecting a jury who will listen to what you have to say.
But what is unequivocally clear is that jurors are in trouble, even if litigants aren’t. Increasing numbers of jurors are pleading financial hardship. They are afraid of being asked to serve on lengthy trials when they can’t pay their bills, they don’t have enough money for the gas to make it to the courthouse to be excused, their spouse has been laid off, they need to be available for over-time, and their employer will no longer pay their salaries for protracted jury trials. Despite a Gallup Poll published on August 31, 2009 saying we are watching our spending closely but we are used to it now—potential jurors must have missed that particular polling call. Increasingly, jurors are feeling like they are the ones that might lose.
A new article by John Schwartz in the New York Times discusses the pervasive intrusion financial fears are bringing to the numbers of citizens available to serve as jurors. The article describes how half the panel (in some instances) are pleading financial hardship. Jury commissioners are significantly increasing the number of people summoned to bring in ample jurors.
As I said when interviewed for the article, longer cases prompt greater efforts to head for the exits. Those who are unemployed can’t afford to not be out there looking for a job. And despite laws that protect jurors from being fired for their service, people whose companies have gone through rounds of layoffs worry about the impact on them of several days away from the office. Judges are feeling the difference, and increasing the size of venire panels to make sure they have enough jurors who can tolerate service. It isn’t dodging service when the pain is so terribly real.
Lawyers have valid concerns about forcing people to stay for jury duty and then having angry and resentful jurors judging the case. Fretful or angry jurors are especially of concern to plaintiffs in civil suits because they are seen as having brought the suit and are more likely to be blamed by the jurors for any inconvenience that jury duty caused them.
We need to be attuned to juror fears and if we say we’re going to have a trial done efficiently, we need to keep our promise. Jurors need to believe you as you present your case, and they also need to believe you are sincere as you tell them how much of their precious time you will require. The attorney’s billing clock may be spinning during trial, but for the jurors it is at full stop.