What is to count as evidence?

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I have been driving around England for the last three weeks. I have had lots of opportunities (particularly during motorway delays) to listen to Classic FM and BBC Radio 4.

A number of programs (and some of the themes in my meetings here) have been encouraging me to think about evidence.

The first prompt came from a TV program I watched in my first few days here and probably sent me off on my evidence journey.

Whenever I visit the UK, I hope it coincides with BBC One’s Fake or Fortune program. On my recent visit I saw a great program about an Edouard Vuillard painting.

I like the composition of the team that investigates the fake or fortune issues: Fiona Bruce, Philip Mould and Bendor Grosvenor. Philip and Bendor have worked together since 2005. In this program, Philip, Bendor and Fiona work together to develop a complete provenance that will be acceptable to the Wildenstein Institute.

I do understand that the program format mediates the details of finding evidence to support a provenance. Tom Flynn, for example, writes about how this process leads to questions of authenticity. What I do like however is the sense of an unfolding story about discovery and the aggregation of slivers of evidence.

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The authenticity of evidence was a fundamental issue in BBC Radio 4’s coverage of the publication of A report into the credibility of certain evidence with regard to torture and execution of persons incarcerated by the current Syrian regime.

The report is based on the evidence of a military police photographer, who along with others, reportedly smuggled about 55,000 digital images of some 11,000 dead detainees out of Syria.

There were six members of the team that investigated evidence of torture and execution. The three legal representatives were Desmond de Silva, Geoffrey Nice and David Crane. There were three forensic investigators too; Stuart Hamilton, Susan Black and Stephen Cole.

The Executive Summary to the report notes:

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The defector was codenamed ‘Caesar’. The report concludes:

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In the Radio interviews and discussions about the Report, there was considerable debate and conjecture about reliability and trust.  Jim Muir suggests that “Issues of political motivation – the commissioning of the report by Qatar, and its release just before the Geneva talks – should not obscure the reality of the evidence produced”.

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What is to count as ‘real’ was also a topic for those keen to learn more about hospital waiting times. The Radio 4 Today program reported data collected on NHS waiting times for elective care in England. The program presenter focused on this part of the report’s findings:

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This became headline news following the release of the report. The NHS Choices website is very clear that patients have a “legal right to start your NHS consultant-led treatment within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral, unless you choose to wait longer or it is clinically appropriate that you wait longer”.

Some discussions centred on whether a sub-sample of 650 patients was representative of the whole sector.

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Just as I was driving along the A66 towards Carlisle, I came across another discussion of representative sampling. Data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales reported that “overall crime fell by 10% in England and Wales in the year to September 2013”. This announcement comes shortly after the UK Statistics Authority has decided to remove the National Statistics designation from police-recorded crime statistics.

The Crime Survey “records crimes that may not have been reported to the police, so it is used as an alternative to police records. Without the Crime Survey, the government would have no information on these unreported crimes. Typically the Crime Survey records a higher number of crimes than police figures because it includes these unreported crimes as well”.

All of these programs encouraged me to think about how we research and share evidence. I think they are excellent prompts to think about trust building through disciplined insight.

Photo Credits

22-366 Year 4 Searching (John Garghan, CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

#Homs #Syria (Freedom House, CC BY 2.0)

Golden Wedding Celebrations (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, no known copyright restrictions)

Crossing the Road (Philip Howard, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

2 thoughts on “What is to count as evidence?”

  1. Thanks for posting Keith. There is some personal irony in this post as I’ve just finished reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (Ben’s Blog can be found at http://www.badscience.net/) which started me thinking and reflecting about how much evidence do we need to implement an intervention in sport? Are our current practices, usually deemed as ‘professional’ by athletes, coaches and sports scientists alike (myself included!), in fact based on reasonable evidence or at least rational thinking considering the current pros and cons of the evidence? and how much bias is generated by someone else doing something we are not at the compromise of quality rationality?

    It is indeed fun to ponder.

    1. Hello, Mitch

      Thank you for commenting and sharing the link to Ben. I agree with your observations … and trust that we do offer considered support that uses probability as our guide.

      I imagine your role and insights from experience help you deal with these dilemmas.

      You have prompted me to think about times when I got it completely wrong.

      Best wishes

      Keith

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