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The Prosecutor’s Fallacy

Numbers can be highly impressive. An up-to 50% sale gets shoppers rushing to that store even when most items aren’t on that high a discount. Citing statistics as evidence in law courts has its own issues. They may sound like good evidence and even get ruling in the favour of those citing lofty statistics. However, without using proper statistical tools and applying them appropriately, wrong decisions can be taken. So, how should the law go about using statistics?


You have no idea what happened

I remember feeling the tremors while I was taking a bath. And, I stopped pouring water over myself. I thought it was a mild earthquake and it would pass. But, it didn’t – my world shook for at least a minute – and I quickly dried myself, dressed up, and came out to see what had happened. My father had already helped our old neighbours down nine floors through the stairs. The milkman remembers watching the entire building oscillate. It was a major earthquake – as I would find out later; entire villages were wiped out and many buildings sunk in the ground burying the residents alive. When something catastrophic, big, or emotional happens, our brains store that memory a little differently. So, the brain remembers that central event but the peripheral details – such as whether I was bathing or what the milkman told me – are confused. Therefore, what we may remember about the activities surrounding the event may not be accurate.