Monday, June 11, 2007

why trial by jury sucks

Who doesn't like democracy right? Well sometimes, a group of people is worse at taking decisions than multiple independent individuals. At least that's Dawkin's very convincing opinion which starts like this: "Trial by jury must be one of the most conspicuously bad good ideas anyone ever had. Its devisers can hardly be blamed. They lived before the principles of statistical sampling and experimental design had been worked out. They weren’t scientists. Let me explain using an analogy. And if, at the end, somebody objects to my argument on the grounds that humans aren’t herring gulls, I’ll have failed to get my point across.".

All of this to introduce this story, about a federal hearing of a court case against the US government presented on behalf of a family of a girl afflicted with severe autism. You may have heard of it, there has been a long suspicion that childhood vaccines such as the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR), the vaccine additive thimerosal, or the mercury preservative in vaccines may be the cause of autism. Yet time and time again studies have shown the absence of causation, and that the correlation between the age of onset of autism and childhood vaccines is just that, a correlation. Even the correlated rise of autism cases and vaccination in the past decades can be explained simply by better records and diagnosis of autism, there probably hasn't been a major increase in actual cases. So lets hope that this particular jury is not a loose canon and can appreciate the subtleties of causation and correlation, and that there is a good expert witness at that trial, since there are 5000 other similar cases for which it might set a costly precedent.


Anonymous Coward said...

Just remember: when you go to court, you are trusting your fate to twelve people that weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty!

Anonymous Coward said...

Judging by the comments, I'd say the jury may be swayed in the favor of the plaintif:

"I truly believe that anyone who disputes the link between thimerosal and adverse reactions and between vaccines and possible adverse reactions should be REQUIRED by law to receive these vaccines with the thimerosal on the same schedule as have done to our children. We should also adjust the thimerosal level to match the ratio per pound that were given to these infants. Until the powers that be agree to do this in public (and I mean EVERY single vaccine that they now mandate and many on the SAME day) --- I believe that as a parent I should have a right to decide which vaccines if any to administer to my children and when and how."