Thursday, 15 February 2007

The Verdict

Ok, so the BBC's rape trial dramatisation concluded last night. The football player/selling the story angle was unnecessary and just muddled the case (if you buy their argument that what they were making was an informative documentary). The story is girls meet football players, go back to their room because they can't get food in the bar and have to order room service, one girl leaves and one of the footballers leaves, remaining girl alleges that she was then raped by remaining footballer, then by other footballer returning, and by unnamed third man. Friend of girl tapes her talking about the rape and sells it to a newspaper.

The jurors themselves were a motley crew, Archer, convicted felon, ex-football player Collymore, admitted domestic violence, and advocate of dogging (odd sexual behaviour), Megaman, eventually acquited of inciting his mate to murder someone (the mate went to prison for said murder), Sara Payne whose daughter was abducted and murdered.

I really have to ask just how stupid is Jeffrey Archer? I'd always know he ws a fantasist but the drawling way he delivered his pseudo-profound points was breathtaking. Portillo managed to come out of it better than the rest, it was probably only his IQ keeping them in double figures, the guy from Blur and the entrepeneur also seemed ok.

Megaman and Collymore were never going to convict, probably whatever the evidence, the former because he had been tried three times before being acquitted, and the latter for such great reasons as "footballers are always being accused of rape, but it never comes to court, therefore they don't rape", and "only 5% of rapes are convicted, therefore..." Collymore spent the entire case (ably assisted by Megaman), acting as the defence's representative on the jury, dismissing all evidence and barracking anyone who disagreed with him. I'm told that it is common to have one jurer who refuses to believe in the guilt of anyone, and sometimes another who thinks everyone is guilty, whatever the evidence. Not sure there was a representative of the second group. Collymore and Megaman showed that amusing characteristic people have that when they believe something they think that all evidence supports them and cannot understand that there can be alternative interpretations. There was also some usual "wouldn't have happened to me" type reasoning from a female jury member (think she was in a soap).

The victim having been showed to be lying about being a virgin was also further water muddying and I was surprised by the way the barristers were able to make unsubstantiated claims and insinuations without backing them up ("isn't it always the convent girl types..." was a great line, of course if she'd had a more colourful sexual history that'd also damn her - doesn't seem like there is a woman you can rape without it being her fault). The substance of the arguments, both by the barristers, and in the jury's deliberations, consisted of making up stories, narratives that make sense of the facts available, I guess that's the law for you, very postmodern. The lack of forensic input was disturbing when a fair bit came down to questions of physical injury, and even down to arguments over interpretation of the injuries - you'd think they'd be able to get a pathologist into court with some hard figures.

As to my impressions of the case, there was physical evidence consistent with and suggestive of the allegation, the allegation was plausible, the defendants' stories were inconsistent, I think I'd go for a conviction. But the jury went the other way, essentially their burden of proof cannot be passed unless there is an independent eye witness or admission of guilt. Much was made of the unique nature of rape, where the requirements of reasonable doubt are tested to the extreme: "it is his word against hers". I'm not sure I'm convinced by that reasoning, why isn't theft thought of like that? "Oh, she just gave it to me guvner", it seems to me that the burden of proof has been shifted somehow in raoe trials, and listening to the jurors, that would seem to be their impression, that the woman has to "prove" that the man raped her.

Anyone can concoct a scenario roughly consistent with the facts of the case (see the rough sex defence in "Consent"!) so essentially no rape case can ever be beyond reasonable doubt or "be certain" (which I think was the wording used by the judge, actually harsher than reasonable doubt in my opinion) because there will always be a story given by the defence that could be true. In this case the story wasn't concocted until after the arrest, and after the defendant denied sex at all initially.

Scarily Archer was on the convict side, but then when it went to 9:3 he changed his mind allowing a 10:2 not guilty verdict. But Archer was mostly revelling in the attention and I'm not sure how genuine his belief was (and if it was his belief how valid his change of heart was - to spare the two men another trial despite believing that she was raped by them). The other two guilty verdicts were from two of the more normal individuals Jacqueline Gold (Ann Summers Chief Exec) and 'entrepeneur' Dominic McVey.

As with "Consent" I'm not sure anyone learned anything, and it was a rather unedifying spectacle watching the celebs laughing away during the trial (although they did seem to take it seriously most of the time). Sadly I can see why many women say they wouldn't report a rape - currently it seems to be almost impossible to meet the standard of evidence set by British juries, and at least some of that seems to be due to the assumption that women consent to sex with anyone unless proven otherwise.

Worst Childhood On Earth 2

Some notes I never bothered making into a post:

Here's some qualifiers:

Subjective well-being
Data for the figures presented in the final dimension were also taken in the majority from Currie, C., et al (eds) (2004) ‘Young People’s Health in Context. Health Behaviour in School-age Children Study’(HBSC): International report from the 2001/2002 study, WHO Regional Office for Europe. Figures 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3a are all derived from this source, and as such UK and Belgian results are to be treated with
caution (See note on Figure 1.3a).

Figure 6.3b is sourced from the OECD PISA survey 2003 accessed at http:// oecd_pisa_data.html in August 2005. UK results
should be treated with caution. The United States did not provide responses to these items.

And here is why:

The uncertainties surrounding the sample and its bias are such that PISA 2003 scores for the United Kingdom cannot reliably be compared with those of other countries. They can also not be compared with the performance scores for the United Kingdom from PISA 2000. The regional data from Wales are also not comparable with other countries.

Worst Childhood On Earth!!!

I've been interested by the recent coverage of this report from UNICEF which has been widely reported in the UK media as showing that we have the worst childhoods in the industrial world. Now I can see that childhood here is not necessarly a bed of roses, but I was somewhat dubious that it was likely to be worse than say Poland, or Russia, but everyone seems to have been commenting on it as accurately reflecting the state of the world. Now I'm sure there's some truth in it, but I was sufficiently intrigued to have a closer look.

Looking at the report methodology reveals an amusing methodological conceit - they z-score their indicators -
A common scale

  • Throughout this Report Card, a country’s overall score for each dimension of child well-being has been calculated by averaging its score for the three components chosen to represent that dimension. If more than one indicator has been used to assess a component, indicator scores have been averaged. This gives an equal weighting to the components that make up each dimension, and to the indicators that make up each component. Equal weighting is the standard approach used in the absence of any compelling reason to apply different weightings and is not intended to imply that all elements used are considered of equal significance.
  • In all cases, scores have been calculated by the ‘z scores’ method – i.e. by using a common scale whose upper and lower limits are defined by all the countries in the group. The advantage of this method is that it reveals how far a country falls above or below the average for the group as a whole. The unit of measurement used on this scale is the standard deviation (the average deviation from the average). In other words a score of +1.5 means that a country’s score is 1.5 times the average deviation from the average. To ease interpretation, the scores for each dimension are presented on a scale with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 10.
So however close the raw scores are on an indicator scale they will be forced into a normal distribution with one country right at the bottom and one at the top, and this distribution will be given the same sort of weight as another distribution with massive disparities - i.e. a country that is at the top of the distribution for, say, immunisation rates, even if these rates are all very similar (a range of 80-100%) but scores badly on, say, infant mortality (2-16/1000) where there is a wide range of outcomes will come out the same as a country where the converse is the case - eyeballing it this is the case for Russia or Poland versus Austria. If we look at this section - the Health & Safety of Children measure shows the Netherlands (#2) at 112-113 and Ireland (#19) at 91; this represents Infant Mortality Rates of 4.9 and 5/1000, Low Birth Weight of 5.3% and 5%, Immunisation Rates of 96% and 81%, and Deaths from Accidents of 9 and 14/100,000. Now obviously Ireland is worse than the Netherlands, but the difference in ranking (#2 vs #19) does not seem to convey the message that the Irish have a similar rate of low-birth weight, similar infant mortality, 20% worse immunisation rates, and 50% worse accidental death in the under 19s - it makes it look like children in Ireland are a diseased subclass (rather than my first thought, which is that all their kids are dying in road accidents due to the stupid provisional licence system, and the generally unsafe roads).

There are also some elements that seem a bit unwise, taking immunisation rates as measuring

the comprehensiveness of preventative health services for children. Immunization levels also serve as a measure of national commitment to primary health care for all children

they note that

Vaccination is cheap, effective, safe, and offers protection against
several of the most common and serious diseases of childhood (and failure to reach high levels of immunization can mean that ‘herd immunity’ for certain diseases will not be achieved and that many more children will fall victim to disease.

but the very phenomenon of herd immunity means that pecentage immunisation should not be considered a uniform linear scale where 10% more immunised is always the same as 10% less immunised in terms of outcome - so if you need 90% coverage for herd immunity then an improvement from 90 to 95% coverage is not as significant as improvement from 85 to 90%. An additional factor is that as an indirect measure of health services for children immunisation is a lousy measure in countries (such as the UK) with a strong recent history of anti-immunisation campaigns (so the UK vaccination rate peaked at 90%+ after MMR was introduced before dipping again to <85% after the MMR controversy around 1998).

More later, perhaps I will get JP to discuss why the UK figures for the "Percentage of 15-19 year-olds not in education, training or employment" is actually a feature of poor population statistics, and how reliable subjective survey reports are when compared between countries.

Update: Doesn't look like JP is going to post - but basically the figures for 15-19yr olds not in education is calculated by subtracting the number in education from the latest population estimate. You may remember the controversy over the 'missing' young men in the last census, the ONS was forced to fiddle the figures and just arbitrarily add in thousands more of them. So, of course, by doing this they've suddenly massively upped the number not in education (since these extra young men are purely nominal and have no further evidence for their existence it is hardly likely they'd be enrolled in school!).