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Shaken Baby Syndrome on Trial: Causal Problems and Sources of Bias

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FOSW02 - Bayesian networks and argumentation in evidence analysis

Over 1,100 individuals are in prison today on charges related to the diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). In recent years this diagnosis has come under scrutiny, and more than 20 convictions made on the basis of SBS have been overturned. The overturned convictions have fueled a controversy about alleged cases of SBS . In this talk, I will review the arguments made by the prosecution and defense in cases related to SBS and point out two problems: much of the evidence used has contextual bias, and the expert witnesses and attorneys ask the wrong causal questions. To resolve the problem of asking the wrong causal questions, I suggest that a Causes of Effects framework be used in formulating the causal questions and answers given by attorneys and expert witnesses. To resolve the problem of bias, I suggest that only the task-relevant information be provided to the individual who determines the diagnosis. I also suggest that in order for this to be possible, there must be a change in the definition of SBS so it does not include the manner in which the injuries were caused. I close with recommendations to researchers in statistics and the law about how to use scientific results in court.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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