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pete22 comments on The Amanda Knox Test: How an Hour on the Internet Beats a Year in the Courtroom - Less Wrong

42 Post author: komponisto 13 December 2009 04:16AM

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Comment author: pete22 16 December 2009 03:55:17AM *  3 points [-]

OK, but why do you keep saying "if"? The judge is making an argument on your terms. He is trying not to privilege the hypothesis. He is starting from the premise of Guede's involvement, and he does find a reason to infer the involvement of someone else. He does not conclude that the trail goes utterly cold, but instead that it leads convincingly to Raffaele and Amanda.

Now, you may disagree with this argument, but I still haven't heard the substance of your disagreement. All you've done is gainsay it.

Don't get me wrong -- I think your original post was a very good explanation of some huge conceptual problems in the way the case against K&S has come together. If I came in believing they were guilty, you would have raised massive doubts in my mind. And that's no small accomplishment on your part. But it doesn't follow that no case against them remains. In order to convince me, or anyone else who's around the average of 35%, that we should lower our odds to your 1-10% range, I think you have to address the facts more directly. It's not enough to say "there comes a point when you just have to declare..." or that certain DNA evidence "doesn't count."

If you were a defense attorney and we were jurors, then you're right, you'd have your acquittal. But it's not a juror's job to distinguish between a 1% and a 35% probability of guilt. To make that case, I don't think you can just point out weaknesses here and there in the prosecution's argument -- you need to lay out the strongest version of the prosecution's case, even if you have to put it together for them, and then show step-by-step why it doesn't lead to a probability higher than 1-10%.

I don't blame you for not doing that, because as I've been saying, the primary sources aren't available to do it -- at least not in objective, quality English translations. I'm just not sure how you can get to such low odds without taking a more granular approach. You've suggested that the correct prior is the (very low) odds of someone like Amanda committing homicide, and others have suggested that the correct prior is the (very high) odds of a convicted defendant in a modern legal system being guilty -- but these are two ends of a spectrum, not binary alternatives. Finding the correct point on that spectrum is equivalent to assessing the strength of the prosecution's case.

Comment author: komponisto 16 December 2009 07:31:12PM *  2 points [-]

He is starting from the premise of Guede's involvement

No he isn't! He's starting from the premise that some investigator found the condition of Meredith's clothing and bloodstains to be unusual given the hypothesis of only one killer. As far as I can tell, he has failed to update properly on the lack of connection between Guede and anyone else who might be a suspect -- not to mention the lack of other evidence (e.g. DNA) that would indicate two or more killers.

In order to convince me, or anyone else who's around the average of 35%, that we should lower our odds to your 1-10% range, I think you have to address the facts more directly.

I'm starting to suspect that we may just have a disagreement about how strong the anti-Knox evidence is. Yes, I agree it isn't literally zero. But that's not the point. The point is that it is utterly dwarfed by the other evidence. Exactly how strong of a dwarfing is this? Well, that's what seems to be the point of contention. I claim the net evidence of Knox's guilt yields a probability of no more than 0.1; you're uncomfortable going below 0.35. The only way to resolve this would be to do some sort of rigorous calculation of the inferential power of clothing-mechanics-analysis evidence -- something which I think would take us too far away from our main topics here.

I suppose I can console myself with the fact that it's good news for Amanda and Raffaele (and bad news for the prosecution) if what are probably the most intelligent and sophisticated discussions of their case on the whole Internet consist of vociferous arguments about whether the probability of their guilt should be 0.35, 0.1, or even lower.