Unconscious Bias and Manner of Death

Graph from studyA sobering study has raised serious questions about the reliability of a document that’s generally treated in the courtroom as objective truth:  the medical examiner’s report.

Researchers at University College London presented a group of forensic pathologists—all board-certified members of the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME)—with a “not straightforward” case, a 3-year-old who arrives at the emergency room with a head injury and later dies. All pathologists received the same medical findings and investigation reports, but some were told the child was White and in the care of a grandmother, others that the child was Black and in the care of the mother’s boyfriend.

The graph above illustrates the study’s most dramatic finding: Pathologists in the study called the death an accident, not a homicide, twice as often in the case of a White child with a grandmother; in a complete reversal, they called the death a homicide five times as often as accident in the case of a Black child with the mother’s boyfriend. Journalist Radley Balko, in an editorial in The Washington Post, called the study “stark evidence of cognitive bias among medical examiners.”

The study also raises questions about the fundamental reliability of an ME’s conclusions:  78 of the 133 pathologists in the study told researchers they didn’t have enough information to determine whether the death was accident or homicide. Of those who gave an opinion, 23 called it an accident, 32 a homicide.

This is already a problem,” Balko’s editorial noted. “Reliability is one of the key criteria the Supreme Court has said judges should consider in deciding whether to allow expert testimony. The same facts applied to different people should produce the same outcome. That clearly wasn’t the case in this study.”

I recommend reading both the editorial and the journal article itself:

-Sue Luttner

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog.

1 Comment

Filed under abusive head trauma

One response to “Unconscious Bias and Manner of Death

  1. Pat Craiglow

    The Conviction of MARSHA MILLS Had No Basis In The Real World As It Applied To “Shaken Baby Syndrome!” The Six-Year-Old Little Boy, Was NOT SHAKEN TO DEATH In
    Reading My Information As It Was Presented To
    THE OHIO INNOCENCE PROJECT! The Original Diagnosis Originating From Both The Doctor Who Performed The Autopsy and The Esteemed Dr. Daryl Steiner Identified The Child’s Death As Death By Shaking!! While The Case Itself Had Nothing To Do With Shaking of The Child But With Saying Marsha Mills Also
    “Beat Him With Her Hands” While There Was No Evidence of Scratches, Broken Nails or Blood On Her Hands!! The Real Scenario Was That There Was A Race By The Two Shope Brothers To Get To A Sliding Board and Noah’s Older Brother Pushed Him Down The Steps To His Death. Undoubtedly, It Was A Playful Move
    By The Older Brother To Get To The Slide!! Of Course It Was An Accident!! BUT, Their Should Have Been A Thorough Investigation By Both The Police and BCI OF OHIO! The Investigation of The Crime Itself Was Handled By An Incompetent Police Presence and A Complacent District Attorney’s Office! As For The Cause Of Death, My Research Found A Young Child Who Died As A Result Of A Fall and
    Respiratory Failure, NOT MURDER!! It Was A Sign of The Times When Dr. DARYL Steiner Represented By The Use Of The Term “SHAKEN BABY SYNDROME” Led The Country
    In Those Diagnosed In Summit County and Several Surrounding Communities In Ohio!! I,
    and Many Like Me KNOW, WITHOUT A DOUBT,

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