Saturday, April 14, 2007

Questions For Two Profs

Below is a post in full from Brooklyn College professor KC Johnson’s blog.

KC has been a leader in the fight for justice for the three young man framed in the public mind by false and racially inflammatory “news reporting” by the Raleigh News & Observer and others in media at the same time they were framed during “the investigation” by DA Nifong, certain Durham Police and others.

Following Johnson’s post are parts of three comments from the post thread.

I've reviewed the entire thread as of 9:30 PM Eastern, Saturday, April 14.

I end my post with copies of emails I’ve sent Duke professor Sheryl Broverman and KC.

HERE'S KC JOHNSON'S POST (KC's comments in italics):

The day that AG Roy Cooper dismissed all charges and declared the players innocent, it seemed as if we had another example of unfortunate conduct by a Duke professor. Newsday quoted Biology professor Sheryl Broverman (who is not one of the Group of 88) as suggesting that we'll never know the truth of what happened. It turns out, however, that Broverman's comments were taken considerably out of context.

Broverman e-mailed me shortly after the article appeared, but Wednesday through Friday was unusually hectic, and I just have gotten through this week's e-mails today. I quote her response in full
:
In order to avoid a misunderstanding, I would like clarify my my comments as quoted in Newsday today. I was contacted by the reporter initially to talk about DukeEngage. He then asked me for my opinion about the expected dropping of all charges against the students. I was unaware that this was about to happen. I made the mistake of trying to provide a nuanced commentary on the difficulty of prosecuting rape in general. Many cases, some of which are valid accusations, are dismissed for lack of evidence. I think all of us would also agree that "normal legal procedures" did not happen under Nifong's leadership! Do I want the students to be guilty? Of course not. Do I accept that there is not sufficient evidence to go forward? Sure. Do I wish the lack of evidence had been acknowledged last spring? Absolutely! Who doesn't? However, I still maintain that rape is hard to prosecute, and that IN GENERAL lack of evidence does not mean a crime was not committed. However, I did not mean to suggest that I thought these students should be prosecuted.

In science, if the data doesn't support the hypothesis, you drop or modify the hypothesis. However, if the data doesn't exist because the experiment didn't work, one can't conclude anything. Looking at how Nifong handled the case, "the experiment didn't work" and one can't conclude anything. Listening to AG Cooper this afternoon, I accept that the data does not support the hypothesis, which in real life means that charges should be dropped.
People of good faith, it seems to me, can disagree over whether this case shows that rape law has bent too far in favor of prosecutors, and I suspect I would be more inclined to take that position than Prof. Broverman. About the Duke case itself, however, I agree with everything she says in the statement above.
Now parts of three reader comments on the thread of KC's post:
Comment One ---
Broverman's rationalization is so nuanced, that it is twisted!

She wrote: "However, if the data doesn't exist because the experiment didn't work, one can't conclude anything."

I take great pride in being a scientist myself.

This is not a case of the data failing to support the hypothesis. This is a case of the data totally disproving the hypothesis!!

The fact that the DNA came back totally negative PROVED that the hypothesis was wrong!!

If a woman showed up in the hospital weeks after being raped, a reasonable person would not expect to find DNA, so the absence of DNA would prove nothing. This case is RATHER DIFFERENT, however.
Comment two ---
In science, if one forms a hypothesis and the experiment yields overwhelming indication that the hypothesis is false, it must be discarded. The hypothesis in this case was, "A rape occurred."

At this moment in time, ALL evidence (and there is a great deal) points to the negative of that hypothesis. Ipso facto, one must conclude, as the state AG did, there was no rape and therefore there cannot be any rapists. Recall the use of the term "innocent?"

This biology type must have a dual major in race/class/gender studies. Her "logic" is unsound.
Comment three ---
Is it just me, or is Broverman STILL saying the players could very well have raped Mangum, but she's generously accepting that it can't be proved? This is a far, far cry from saying there is no evidence a crime occurred.
My email to Professor Broverman:
Dear Professor Broverman:

I’m a Duke alum and blog as John in Carolina.

I’ve read KC Johnson’s post which contains in full your email to him.

Nowhere in your email do you say you agree with NC Attorney General Roy Cooper’s conclusion: “Innocent.”

Do you?

If not, why not?

You say: “I still maintain that rape is hard to prosecute, and that IN GENERAL lack of evidence does not mean a crime was not committed. However, I did not mean to suggest that I thought these students should be prosecuted.”

Actually, Professor Broverman, rape is not “hard to prosecute” even when there's no evidence one occurred.

Not only that, many attorneys tell me rape is one of the easiest crimes to prosecute: all it often takes is the word of an accuser who media tell everyone is “the victim.”

I hear that from both female and male attorneys. What do you hear?

I’ll publish your response to this email in full up to 600 words as an “Update” to my post you’ll find at this URL:
http://johninnorthcarolina.blogspot.com/2007/04/questions-to-two-profs.html

If you request I publish your response as a “stand alone” post with only a brief orientation for “new readers,” I’ll do that.

Sincerely,

John in Carolina
Email to KC Johnson:

Dear KC,

Regarding your response to Professor Broveraman, I question whether you meant to ignore her failure to say she agreed David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann are, as NC Attorney General Cooper said: “Innocent.”

I'm troubled by your telling your blog readers concering Broverman:
“About the Duke case itself, however, I agree with everything she says in the statement above.”
I hope that’s not really what you meant to say.

Here’s a link to my post on the matter:
http://johninnorthcarolina.blogspot.com/2007/04/questions-to-two-profs.html

As with any response I receive from Broverman, I’ll publish your response in full at JinC.

Thank you.

John
______________________________

Folks, I'll keep you posted on what I hear.

John

20 comments:

DukeEgr93 said...

John - I am not sure with which part you disagree. Dr. B's comments specific to the Duke case are: "I think all of us would also agree that "normal legal procedures" did not happen under Nifong's leadership! Do I want the students to be guilty? Of course not. Do I accept that there is not sufficient evidence to go forward? Sure. Do I wish the lack of evidence had been acknowledged last spring? Absolutely! Who doesn't?"

With which of those things should KC have disagreed?

JWM said...

Dear Dukeegr93,

Your comment ends with:” Do I want the students to be guilty? Of course not. Do I accept that there is not sufficient evidence to go forward? Sure. Do I wish the lack of evidence had been acknowledged last spring? Absolutely! Who doesn't?"

We can agree that Professor Broverman continued: "However, I still maintain that rape is hard to prosecute, and that IN GENERAL lack of evidence does not mean a crime was not committed. However, I did not mean to suggest that I thought these students should be prosecuted."

With that agreed to this question:

What would your comment have been if Broverman had said: "However, I still maintain that rape by professors of a student is hard to prosecute, and that IN GENERAL lack of evidence does not mean a crime was not committed? However, I did not mean to suggest that I thought these (instead of "student" which Broverman used insert three random names) should be prosecuted."

But no mention the three profs were actually found innocent after a lengthy investigation by the NC Attorney General.

Wasn't the AG's investigation a more soundly conducted “experiment" than the one Broverman hangs her dripping biases on: Investigators Nifong, Gottlieb, Wilson and Himan's Precious study?

Thanks for commenting.

Your turn.

John

DukeEgr93 said...

Couple responses (which come as no surprise :) )

One part is the Broverman quotes were obtained by Newsday *before* the press conference on Wednesday, but run and given context in such a way as to suggest they were said in reaction to his press conference. Therefore, the poorly conducted experiments were those of Nifong - and surely we can all agree with how poorly those were conducted - and that those conducted rightly were reported wrongly.

Having sat on several judicial board hearings for sexual assault, I have to agree that rape is hard to prosecute, and that IN GENERAL lack of evidence does not mean a crime was not committed.

Now, in THIS case,I would disagree with Dr. B and say there IS evidence - the alibi items for both Mr. Seligmann and Mr. Finnerty, for example. And the other DNA matches.

Plus, I would have gone after...me...thus: "What would your comment have been if Broverman had said: "However, I still maintain that grade retribution by professors of a student is hard to prosecute, and that IN GENERAL lack of evidence does not mean a crime was not committed? However, I did not mean to suggest that I thought these faculty should be prosecuted."

But, the main question remains, and I ask it primarily because I feel like KC gets slammed at times for crimes he didn't commit :)

AMac said...

Here is the part of the 4/12/07 Newsday article where reporters Joseph Mallia and Bart Jones quote Prof. Broverman:

...For some at Duke, the possibility of dropped charges left as many questions as answers -- and a feeling that the full truth of what happened last March in the house on North Buchanan Boulevard may never be known, in part because the investigation was mishandled.

"Since we haven't gone through a normal legal process, we don't know what really happened," said Duke biology professor Sheryl Broverman. "The fact the charges were dropped doesn't mean nothing happened. It just means information wasn't collected appropriately enough to go forward."


The quote is in jarring contrast to what Broverman wrote in her email to KC Johnson: "I made the mistake of trying to provide a nuanced commentary on the difficulty of prosecuting rape in general. Many cases, some of which are valid accusations, are dismissed for lack of evidence."

She seems to be claiming that the three-sentence quote in the article was offered to the Newsday reporters as a general commentary on rape prosecutions, and that Mallia and Jones twisted her words to make it appear as if she was speaking about Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann.

That's serious journalistic misconduct that she appears to be implicitly alleging (all Newsday reporters are not ethical choirboys).

What Broverman wrote to Johnson is opaque.

"Do I want the students to be guilty? Of course not. Do I accept that there is not sufficient evidence to go forward? Sure. Do I wish the lack of evidence had been acknowledged last spring? Absolutely!"

Those of us who believe that there was no assault of any kind on March 13th would concur. However, most of those who cling to the notion that members of the lacrosse team did commit a felony that night ("something happened") would also concur with what Broverman wrote.

Broverman's following paragraph on hypothesis and data is medieval in its scholasticism. Depending on her definitions of various terms, she might be embracing either "innocent!" or "something may well have happened."

If she believes that the entire lacrosse team is factually innocent because no assault ever occurred, she has not so stated in unambiguous terms.

If she believes that "something may well have happened," she has not stated this clearly, either. However, in that case, her quote in the Newsday article was properly presented to the paper's readers, and she has no grounds for complaint. She would also have no self-evident reason for writing the "clarifying statement" to K.C. Johnson, as she did.

I've written Joseph Mallia and Bart Jones (with a cc to Prof. Broverman) to enquire if they would offer their perspective on this matter.

Anonymous said...

John,

Thanks for noting KC's curious comment about Dr. B's assessment of the charges being dropped. It bothered me and I was very unsettled to read that especially coming from a man I have esteemed for months. I eagerly await his reponse to your email.

Reading Dr. B's comments I have the distinct feeling that she is convinced something bad happened to Crystal that night just that it can't be proven...By this time, I am sickened by such ignorant malevolence.

AMac said...

dukeegr93 --

Ugh, I got the timing wrong. The Mallia/Jones Newsday article appeared in Thursday's paper, the day after Wednesday's announcement by AG Cooper. Since Mallia and Jones lead with reactions to the declaration of innocence, readers will naturally suppose that the reaction interviews with Broverman and others also took place in the aftermath of the announcement.

From Broverman's email to KC, Mallia or Jones talked with her just prior to the announcement.

This is what seems most likely to me:

-- Broverman's position at the time of the interview was that the innocence of Evans, Finnerty, and Jones could not be definitively established.

-- Broverman was surprised (as was I!) by the definitive nature of the special prosecutors' findings.

-- She felt like something of a heel to be featured in Thursday's paper as the example of a Duke skeptic pouring could water on the three lacrosse players' exonoration.

-- She then emailed KC with an explanation that doesn't make complete sense, because she doesn't distinguish between "what I thought at the time I gave the interview (something may have happened) and "what I now think after having heard Cooper's announcement (whatever that may be).

Having done many, many experiments at the bench and having read Karl Popper, I can follow Broverman's "experiment" musings perfectly well. However, she doesn't bring the analogy back to what she thinks about the lacrosse team's factual innocence. Since she did not precisely define what she means by the terms "experiment," "data," and "hypothesis," I can't, either.

All in all, Broverman's letter to Johnson reads like obscurantism, even if it was not meant that way.

Expat(ish) said...

This just proves that one should record all conversations with reporters and publish transcripts.

The absence of evidence that B's comments were taken out of order does not mean that they were or weren't. And proving charges of libel and misquotation are difficult, so.....

Only a tenured Prof could live life such a way.

-AC

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Broverman's problem is her use of Nifongese to describe something scientific. I find her remarks, and her explanation of her remarks, offensive.

Duke Grad said...

Why does Terry Moran of ABC's Nightline insist on the rich-Dukies-got-what-they asked-for stance? Would he hold that position, affluent media mouth that he is, if one of his kids was subjected to the same prosecutorial abuses? What happened to walking in another man's shoes?

anan said...

The nuts are still out there. Shouldn't we somehow let the rest of society know that these are truly defective people. What if this is forgotten and they move on to ambush and ruin the lives of others and actually gain some false convictions.
Do we want these loons unaccountably loose in society.

AMac said...

Duke Grad --

This is off-topic, so I'll be brief. Craig at Lead and Gold is on fire in his remarks on Moran. Browse. See Tom Wolfe quoted. And Ace of Spades savages Moran's self-promotion.

Anonymous said...

I hope we are not witnessing the co-opting of KC Johnson.

Anonymous said...

John:

As a fellow scientist, I too am troubled by professor Broverman's notions of hypothesis testing. It seems that the hypothesis she is testing is not, "A Rape Occurred" - which can be rejected by evidence or lack of evidence. Rather, she seems to be implicitly testing the null hypothesis that, "No Rape Occurred". Thus, her null hypothesis (a negative) can never be successfully refuted because she will respond that there are some data that were not collected or that data were collected, but contaminated, or that laws of space and time do not apply in this case. Of course, there's always the "magic towel."

Gus said...

Actually - *in general* - rape is extremely hard to prove or disprove. Even when the penetration itself is provable, that which makes it a "rape" can be hard to prove or disprove. I was on a case once where I said, "I understand that no means no, but between consenting, sober adults, can 'yes' mean 'no' later if the woman changes her mind a posteriori and thus turn consensual sex into a rape?" The answer I got back from some was "yes." I just sat in stunned silence...

In this *particular* case, sexual assault and kidnapping by any of the three dart-board-selected players in any of the different stories told by the false accuser could be disproved through alibi testimony and evidence and scientific data; couple that with the lack of professionalism and ethics of the DA and some on his team and you have the dismissal presented last week.

Back to the main thesis - here's what KC said:
"People of good faith, it seems to me, can disagree over whether this case shows that rape law has bent too far in favor of prosecutors, and I suspect I would be more inclined to take that position than Prof. Broverman. About the Duke case itself, however, I agree with everything she says in the statement above."

Here's what Dr. Broverman said about the Duke case:
"I think all of us would also agree that "normal legal procedures" did not happen under Nifong's leadership! Do I want the students to be guilty? Of course not. Do I accept that there is not sufficient evidence to go forward? Sure. Do I wish the lack of evidence had been acknowledged last spring? Absolutely! Who doesn't? "
and
"Listening to AG Cooper this afternoon, I accept that the data does not support the hypothesis, which in real life means that charges should be dropped."

That we, here, and KC, there, would not stop at that line and indeed would tack on the fact that AG Cooper stated "Innocent" rather than merey "not enough evidence" doesn't mean anyone is co-opted...

John - if I agree to your extension at 12:13, you have to agree to mine, now, that Dr. B *ended* with the line above regarding AG Cooper. She clearly delineated between Nifong's hack job and Cooper's thorough one, concluding that "I accept that the data does not support the hypothesis" of a rape occurring.

Your statement - "Wasn't the AG's investigation a more soundly conducted “experiment" than the one Broverman hangs her dripping biases on: Investigators Nifong, Gottlieb, Wilson and Himan's Precious study?" Absolutely - but *before* the AG's statement, that was all the judicial system had to go on and that's the lack of experimental rigor I believe Dr. B decried.

I would imagine at this point that none of us would want our innocence or guilt determined by the processes undertaken by Nifong et al, ja?

straightarrow said...

Broverman is dishonest. I do not know if it is intentional, she may also have fooled herself into believing she is holding a defensible postition. It is entirely possible that her biases and previous statements spring from a subconcious source in her psyche.

Regardless, she has not been honest with the media or with K.C. Johnson. If she has deceived herself so that she may be able to attempt to deceive others is a personal problem. When she extends that deception to others, she must be called on it.

I do not believe John, meant to imply that Mr. Johnson has somehow failed in any test of character or integrity. He simply asked the man if perhaps he had not overlooked Broverman's non-answer, because of its dissimilarity to so much of what's gone before. After all, a cold cloudy day seems a nice change from severe thunderstorms, when in normal times such a day would not be considered beautiful weather.

I believe John was asking for just such clarification.

John has too much respect for Mr. Johnson and I have too much respect for John for it to be something different.

Forgive me John, I know you don't need my help. Nor does Mr. Johnson. You both have held beacons for truth since the beginning. I just wanted it plain that some of us understood, so obviously it isn't that difficult.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn says:

Broverman is playing dirty word games - refusing to say someone is innocent, then screaming she didn't say they're guilty.

Tell her to go experiment with her lab rats and leave innocent Duke lacrosse players alone.

JWM said...

I want to thank all of you who carefully read the post and commented. Professor Broverman is fortunate so many of her science colleagues and others stepped forward to remind her of the limits and proper uses of the scientific method.

I’m fortunate to have such readers.

I want to express a special word of thanks to those of you who refuted the commenter who seemed to infer I’d unfairly “slammed” KC Johnson.

I’ve just posted “Questions for Two Profs – Post 2” which contains, among other things KC’s response.

If you care to continue “the conversation,” you can go to the thread of Post 2.

Again, thank you.

John

Anonymous said...

Lawyer Williamson - hear of the bar hearing said " DNA evidence of other peiple and lack of DNA evidence of the Lax team - means lack of evidence means lack of a crime. U think this one is coming out of the woodwork to get her name in the book. I hope KC calls them Others. Think she pulled fast one on KC

Anonymous said...

Her writing is not crystal clear, but I think that the most reasonable reading of "Listening to AG Cooper this afternoon, I accept that the data does not support the hypothesis, which in real life means that charges should be dropped" is that she agrees that the data disproved the hypothesis (i.e., she agrees with the "innocent" pronouncement).

Anonymous said...

Well This is what cutting up frogs would leads too - Who Knew?????