(Pictured above: A sacred cow)
A sacred cow is defined as "an object or practice which is considered immune from criticism, especially unreasonably so."
They exist all around us. Some healthy. Most are not. It is vitally important for the evolution of man and science to identify, examine and challenge sacred cows.
In short to be a scientist.
This begins with the idea of accepting only the null hypothesis as truth before you accept correlation or causation. The null hypothesis typically proposes a general or default position, such as that there is no relationship between two quantities, or that there is no difference between a experimental group and the control group. One then designs a series of statistically and scientifically valid tests to robustly challenge the null hypothesis not to adopt it, but rather with an eye towards disproving the null hypothesis.
For example, imagine flipping a coin three times for three heads and then forming the opinion that we have used a two-headed trick coin. Clearly this opinion is based on the premise that such a sequence is unlikely to have arisen using a normal coin. In fact, such sequences (three consecutive heads or three consecutive tails) occur a quarter of the time on average when using normal unbiased coins. Therefore, the opinion that this coin is two-headed has little support. Formally, the hypothesis to be tested in this example is "this is a two-headed coin." One tests it by assessing whether the data contradict the null hypothesis that "this is a normal, unbiased coin." Since the observed data arise reasonably often by chance under the null hypothesis, we cannot reject the null hypothesis as an explanation for the data, and we conclude that we cannot assert our hypothesis on the basis of the observed sequence.
So, it is healthy and natural to accept no proposition as proven until it has rigorously been examined as if under a microscope. In the court of law, there should be no scared cows.
So, if we accept the proposition that there are no sacred cows and that we must identify, challenge, test or challenge these sacred cows of science in the Courtroom, what can be the consequence?
The consequence could be a paradigm shift.
One of my personal all time favorite books is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution, it was published in 1962 and really codified the concept of "paradigm shift". He postulated and observed that scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions", and in those revolutions "one conceptual world view is replaced by another". Driven by agents of change, a Paradigm Shift is a change from one way of thinking to another. Sometimes even violently so in the face of institutional or systemic resistance. It is a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis. It just does not happen, but rather it is forced typically over objection of the status quo.
As identified by Scientific American magazine (I added an additional 5 to their list), some of the "classical cases" of paradigm shifts are as follows:
In "hard sciences":
- The transition from a Ptolemaic cosmology to a Copernican one.
- The acceptance of the theory of biogenesis, that all life comes from life, as opposed to the theory of spontaneous generation, which began in the 17th century and was not complete until the 19th century with Pasteur.
- The transition between the Maxwellian Electromagnetic worldview and the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview.
- The transition between the worldview of Newtonian physics and the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview.
- The development of Quantum mechanics, which redefined Classical mechanics.
- The acceptance of Plate tectonics as the explanation for large-scale geologic changes.
- The development of absolute dating
- The acceptance of Lavoisier’s theory of chemical reactions and combustion in place of phlogiston theory, known as the Chemical Revolution.
- The acceptance of Lamarck’s theory of evolution to replace creationism
- The acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection replaced Lamarckism as the mechanism for evolution.
- The acceptance of Mendelian inheritance, as opposed to pangenesis in the early 20th century.
- Moving from Newtonian physics to Relativity and Quantum Physics.
In other contexts:
- The transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural one.
- The widespread use of the printing press publishing works in the vernacular of the region as opposed to handwritten and copied texts published only in Latin.
As we continue to creep and settle into the second decade of the 21st century, some needed paradigm sifts in DUI jurisprudence are as follows:
- It is high time for all of us to insist upon modern 21 century be used in our Courts. Infrared breath test spectrometry that only detects at wave lengths that are non-specific to ETOH and have insufficient Mouth Alcohol Detectors that do not take into account that every person’s physiology is different and rely instead on a incorrect assumption that everyone’s partition ratio is the same needs to be banished to the relics area along with lead bullet analysis, forensic odentology and other psudeo or para forensic endeavors.
- Ending the acceptable reliance by the Court’s upon the use of enzymatic assay testing to determine BAC based on colormetric/photospectrographic analytical devices as it is an indirect measure of the uptake of NAD to NADH and only singly measures this uptake at a single wavelength that is non-specific to ETOH (at the 340 wavelength) on the spectrum.
- The use and reliance on solely a police officer’s opinion as to intoxication where no video tape exists to verify the claims of the officer.
- When Gas Chromatography results are used, the failure to assure that there is no carry-over effect by running a blank immediately before the suspect sample must become the standard and the norm.
- Forcing forensic science and its presentation out of the hands of law enforcement and into the hands of true credentialed and formally trained neutral scientists who exercise only within the scope of their formal training.
- The use of blinded proficiency based testing on all technologists that is monitored and refereed by independent third parties.
- The reporting of uncertainty in all results using accepted metrological principles.
- The monitoring of all state expert witnesses in terms of the truthfulness and the candor of their testimony by a panel of independent scientists in the respected fields of testimony.
- Demonstrated validity and robustness of all processes used in the field of breath testing and blood testing for achieving ETOH results prior to their continued introduction into Court.
Paradigm shifts are well within the natural order of things and can only occur if we reject the concept that sacred cows should exist. It comes through agents of change and the use of skepticism and science. It is high time, we take a look at these sacred cows in the Courtroom when it comes to DUI. Don’t you agree?
-Justin J. McShane, Esquire, Pennsylvania DUI Attorney
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