What is to count as evidence?


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.


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:


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


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”.


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:


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.


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)


I have come across three discussions about trust this week.

They just jumped out at me!

1. All of the guests on Phillip Adams’ review of the year spoke about trust. I thought their discussion of geo-politics and economics was fascinating. If you do listen to the podcast, Bea Campbell provides a great perspective on Occupy London. Her commentary led me to look at the St Paul’s Institute’s report on Value and Values: Perceptions of Ethics in the City Today.

2. I have been reading John Dickson’s Humiltas and have thought a great deal about the trust we invest in leaders and how each of us as a leader can build trust. (I happened upon Bret Simmons discussion of trust too.)

3. This morning my wife, Sue, alerted me to a great post. Sue is a wonderful fossicker of stories. The ABC online reports on Babies learn who to trust at early age. The report notes:

Infants normally mimic sounds, facial expressions and actions they observe but researchers at Concordia University in Montreal found that if an adult tricks them, they will no longer follow along with that person.

The findings published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development bolster previous evidence that infants can differentiate between credible and un-credible sources, the study says.

The Concordia study was published online earlier this year (25 February). The authors are Diane Poulin-Dubois, Ivy Brooker and Alexandra Polonia. The abstract is:

Research has shown that preschoolers prefer to learn from individuals who are a reliable source of information. The current study examined whether the past reliability of a person’s emotional signals influences infants’ willingness to imitate that person. An emotional referencing task was first administered to infants in order to demonstrate the experimenter’s credibility or lack thereof. Next, infants in both conditions watched as the same experimenter turned on a touch light using her forehead. Infants were then given the opportunity to reproduce this novel action. As expected, infants in the unreliable condition developed the expectation that the person’s emotional cues were misleading. Thus, these infants were subsequently more likely to use their hands than their foreheads when attempting to turn on the light. In contrast, infants in the reliable group were more likely to imitate the experimenter’s action using their foreheads. These results suggest that the reliability of the model influences infants’ imitation.

Photo Credit

St Paul’s Cathedral

Reading John Dickson: Humility and Leadership

A few weeks ago my daughter Beth alerted me to a Radio National program she had heard.

Richard Aedy interviewed John Dickson on Life Matters.

I followed Beth’s advice to listen to their discussion of humility. As a result I bought John Dickson‘s book Humiltas.

The subtitle to the book is A Lost Key to Life, Love and Leadership.

In it John suggests that “the most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility”. He defines humility as “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself”.

John identifies leadership as “the art of inspiring others in a team to contribute their best to a goal”. Leaders have:

  • Ability
  • Authority
  • Persuasion
  • Example

Humility “enhances persuasiveness”. John concludes his discussion of humility and leadership with six steps:

  1. We are shaped by what we love.
  2. Reflect on the lives of the humble.
  3. Conduct thought experiments to enhance humility.
  4. Act humbly.
  5. Invite criticism.
  6. Forget about being humble.

In the last paragraph of the book John quotes CS Lewis:

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise one is proud. And a biggish step too. At least nothing can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

I think that is a great way to end … and start.

Photo Credit