If redundancy is good enough for the rich and famous . . .

January 5, 2009

by Roger Koppl

According to Associated Press, “Bahamas using 2 experts for Travolta son autopsy.” (HT Ed Lopez.)  Actor John Travolta’s son Jett died tragically on Friday, January 2nd, after hitting his head in a fall.  (It seems he had an illness that left him subject to seizures.)  The E! News story says, “A government official confirms to E! News that the autopsy will be conducted in Freeport by two separate pathologists to ensure accuracy of the results.” 

I approve.  Neither pathologist should have an epistemic monopoly in this case.  I especially appreciate the use of pathologists who are “separate.”  They should not work together and each should remain ignorant of the other’s conclusions. 

The principle of redundancy in forensic science and medico-legal investigation is little more than common sense.  I often talk about it in terms of breaking the forensic or epistemic monopoly of our crime labs.  I also sometimes say, “My message to the forensic science community is simple: When you going motoring, put a spare tire in your trunk.”  It looks rather as if the authorities in the Bahamas have got the basic idea of redundancy in forensic science and medico-legal investigation – at least for the rich and famous.  Shouldn’t the same principle apply to indigent defendants in the criminal courts of the United States? 

4 Responses to “If redundancy is good enough for the rich and famous . . .”

  1. Danny Shahar Says:

    Clearly the forensics community has not been made aware of Public Choice; I’d expect there would be a tribunal of examiners for every case! Unless they don’t like playing with others…

  2. koppl Says:

    Danny,

    The logic of Public Choice says they have no incentive to give up their epistemic monopoly. But i don’t think people are all that self serving except in a modest number of individual cases. That’s part of why I believe in the power of argument. “The Power or the Powerless” and all that. I think I’m making progress with forensic scientists. It’s a slow process, however, because I’m proposing rather big changes in how forensic science works.

  3. Danny Shahar Says:

    Well right, if they value their monopoly over the increase in demand for their work that would be brought on by raising the number of scientists working on each case…but in any case I was only poking fun. Substantively, I agree that redundancy in this area seems to me like it represents progress in procedural justice; making decisions that can seriously affect lives on the basis of a single individual’s opinion seems like a worrisome practice.

  4. koppl Says:

    Danny,
    You said, “in any case I was only poking fun.” (Face palm.) Of course you were; silly of me. Please check out the IFSA web site:
    http://www.fdu.edu/ifsa


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