Saturday, February 08, 2014

Lawyers, scientists, and Woody Allen

Not sure what our scientist readers will think of this, but I expect lawyers and scientists might get grouped together and distinguishable from the general public when thinking about the Woody Allen allegations (latest here, good summary of the evidence here).

I'd say a reasonable conclusion based on available evidence is "probably guilty". Lawyers and scientists can stop there, but I think much of the public can't, at least those who care about it. They have to think he's guilty or he's innocent - it's not acceptable to believe there's a 90% chance he's guilty, a 9% chance his daughter was manipulated into a false memory, and a 1% chance she's outright lying.

Lawyers and scientists may reach this outcome differently - lawyers think about process and advocacy more than an objective truth that's separate from process, and modern scientists think about models rather than truth - but get to the same result. At least that's my purely anecdotal sense.

One good aspect of this recent publicity is it helps rebut the concept that a legal presumption of innocence has to apply to how individuals think of these issues. A welcome further step would be dropping any presumptions and live in doubt.

Not that doubt has to be blind. There's nothing to doubt about the child-rapist Roman Polanski, and multiple independent allegations against Bill Cosby don't leave much room for doubt.

24 comments:

TheTracker said...

I really doubt you can get to 90% confidence given the total lack of physical evidence. I'd say probably not guilty. It's trivially easy to manipulate the memory of a seven-year-old.

kap55 said...

After reading Jezebel's summary of evidence, the big discrepancy that jumps out at me is this:
1). On the day after the alleged incident, 'The doctor examined Dylan and found that she was intact.'
2). Months later, 'state investigators found Dylan credible. "When a little girl says someone digitally penetrated her," one of them told me, "if a child relates pain to the incident at that age, that's credible." '

So if Dylan was intact the day after the alleged incident, how is it that months later she knows about the pain of digital penetration? And the most likely answer I can see is: she was coached.

Mal Adapted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EliRabett said...

Well the Bingle was no walk in the park as a dad either.

Brian said...

Arrgh, Cosby spelling corrected.

Tracker - the issue of ambiguity stands regardless how you assess the evidence. I think it's pretty hard to get to a point where you think one answer is virtually certain to be right.

Anonymous said...

I don't know and I don't know how to guess.

JCH

Jeffrey Davis said...

I think that there's a strong correlation between people's feelings about Annie Hall beating Star Wars for the Best Picture Oscar and how they feel about Allen's guilt or innocence.

Not to be facetious about something so serious, but if the accused here were an unknown schmo, there wouldn't be a controversy.

Anonymous said...

How can you be digitally penetrated years before anyone even invented Second Life? Worse things happen on the internet. I once spent my entire virtual holiday in Habo Hotel only to find the pool had been closed!!! As you can imagine I demanded my pretend money back.

Mal Adapted said...

Brian: "One good aspect of this recent publicity is it helps rebut the concept that a legal presumption of innocence has to apply to how individuals think of these issues."

I was going to say that "presumption of innocence" wouldn't need to be explicitly codified in the the Bill of Rights if individuals naturally applied it to their thinking. I'd have been almost right, but I don't know my Constitution as well as I thought I did. When I looked up presumption of innocence (on Wikipedia, where else?), I learned that:

"Although the Constitution of the United States does not cite it explicitly, presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments."

And it didn't become established U.S. law until 1895, in Coffin v. United States. The decision by POTUS in that case states:

"The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law."

The article then says "In the decision, the Court then goes on to detail the complete legal history of presumed innocence."

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the defendants in that case were accused of aiding and abetting bank fraud.

dhogaza said...

Here's some interesting commentary those who wave off the allegations without being aware of all the available evidence might want to read:

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/02/woody-allen-sex-abuse-10-facts

And while Allen wasn't prosecuted, we do have the 33-page decision from the custody case. It does not, shall we say, exonerate Allen's behavior:

http://www.vanityfair.com/dam/2014/02/woody-allen-1992-custody-suit.pdf

Of course, a custody case doesn't rise ot the level of criminal prosecution and a verdict from a jury, and the "beyond a reasonable doubt" for conviction.

But it rises above, say, references to song lyrics and blind faith in op-eds written by Allen …

I think "probably guilty but we'll never know for sure" is a reasonable conclusion.

dhogaza said...

If you don't want to wade through the custody ruling, the judge's summary boils down to "we'll never know for sure", but that Allen's conduct towards Dylan was "grossly inappropriate" (such behavior not necessarily rising to the level of sexual abuse).

Also, the finding of facts mentions alleged genital touching, not deep penetration, as well as ass-stroking, which of course does not imply rupturing of the hymen …

dhogaza said...

"I think that there's a strong correlation between people's feelings about Annie Hall beating Star Wars for the Best Picture Oscar and how they feel about Allen's guilt or innocence."

Well, I like many of Allen's movies, and felt Annie Hall was more deserving than Star Wars. That doesn't blind me to who the man is, though. Dylan aside, the history of his relationship with Soon-Yi is … a bit odd.

And, yes, Mia Farrow has her own issues, though there's no credible evidence that coaching her daughter is one of her faults.

wolfgang said...

>> a 90% chance he's guilty
as a (former) scientist I have to ask: how did you come up with that number?

John said...

The accusation against Woody Allen now is a revival of part of a child custody lawsuit two decades old.

Nothing really new here.

IMHO Allen has a stronger case.

Anonymous said...

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/my-lie-a-true-story-of-false-memory/2973676

Brian said...

Wolfgang - I made it up. Probably should've said "if I were to assign a percentage probability to my assessment of the evidence then it would be as follows...." but I'm not even a former scientist, so I skipped all that.

As to whether the evidence really justifies my assessment, I doubt my personal assessment is very interesting and shouldn't carry much weight with anyone else. I tried to focus on something a bit different for the blog post.

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

"(such behavior not necessarily rising to the level of sexual abuse)."

But if you're going to claim guilt of child abuse in a sexual context, then you damn well need to show otherwise, won't you?

"Yeah, he's guilty of kiddie fiddling because he was verbally abusive to his child!" doesn't really cut it, even if you have recordings of him hitting his kid.

dhogaza said...

""Yeah, he's guilty of kiddie fiddling because he was verbally abusive to his child!" doesn't really cut it, even if you have recordings of him hitting his kid."

Sworn testimony by a babysitter that she found Dylan on a couch wearing a sundress without underpants, with Allen on the floor in front of her with his head on her lower belly. Followed by Dylan's claim that he touched (not penetrated) her genitals and butt.

"verbal abuse" is not what the judge said, he said "child abuse IN A SEXUAL CONTEXT", and the above was one documented incident. If you're going to come up with a counter-example ridiculing the possibility, come up with an innocent example within a SEXUAL CONTEXT.

dhogaza said...

"Nothing really new here."

Right.

"IMHO Allen has a stronger case."

Why? The judge in the custody case certainly didn't think so. He didn't think a successful prosecution would be possible, but in his finding of facts he didn't need that strong a case, and made clear his opinion, that at minimum Allen's behavior was inappropriate.


dhogaza said...

Referring to another anon post above, yes, false memories are an issue.

However, they don't arise by themselves. There's no evidence whatsoever that Mia Farrow coached her daughter. The only source for that claim is Woody Allen himself, who, after all, is a biased source of information. He doesn't claim to have witnessed Dylan being coached, nor does he has he brought forward any witness to any coaching. The judge in the custody case simply said "there is no credible evidence".

We'll never know for sure.

Brian said...

Coaching a young child into a manipulated memory has a similar problem to sexual assault on a young child: witnesses are thin on the ground.

Kind of ironic that only Woody and Mia are 100% certain to know the truth.

I'll redundantly repeat that we're not going to solve this.

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

"There's no evidence whatsoever that Mia Farrow coached her daughter. The only source for that claim is Woody Allen himself, who, after all, is a biased source of information. He doesn't claim to have witnessed Dylan being coached"

How dumb would Mia have to be to do that in front of Woody?


""IMHO Allen has a stronger case."

Why? The judge in the custody case certainly didn't think so."

However, the custody case did not show he'd abused Dylan. You put out the text saying this, but still think it's "proof" that Woody diddled the kid.

Why?

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

"Sworn testimony by a babysitter that she found Dylan on a couch wearing a sundress without underpants, with Allen on the floor in front of her with his head on her lower belly"

OK, think about this. The sundress will extend BELOW the belly. Right? I mean, I don't wear one, but I understand that's the case, right?

So no underpants would be seen by someone lying on the floor in front, WITH THEIR HEAD ON THE FLOOR LOOKING UP.

Not on the belly.

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

Of course, if you're going to bring up other, so far undisclosed by you, proceedings from the court trial, you may be able to find a gotcha.

However, you're rather biased on this as evidenced by your insistence there's something to answer but think that the claim is enough without the evidence you had that made you reach that conclusion.

You end with "We'll never know for sure", but you're certain he's guilty for all of that.