User:LGreg/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge (LG seminar)/Group 1/Suggested readings

If you've read anything of interest, please feel free to post about it here. Let us know which issue it links to, and maybe even jot down your thoughts. Happy reading!

This article discusses the use of DNA testing in forensic science and its unreliability as evidence. It shows how an attempt was made to introduce objective truth to law, an arguably very subjective discipline in pursuit of justice, and the effects thereafter.

Although the science behind DNA testing has been validated as an empirical truth through thorough research and reviewing, what greatly limits its reliability as an objective truth is the human bias introduced from all sides; human error, peer pressure, greed, inconsistencies in technology and training, and the limits of human ability itself. This issue is made all the more severe by the fact that it is a method of evidence regarded widely by the law as purely objective, and thus results are used to make decisive decisions by placing blind faith in science and disregarding any doubts about its reliability as evidence.

Several efforts have been made to remove sources of human bias in DNA testing by introducing advanced technology; a notable effect is that this also allows for much more accurate and complex analyses of DNA samples, which previously could not be processed accurately by human workers. However, a lack of transparency in the source code used by this newfound technology means that it is effectively no more useful than previous methods of testing, as a lack of human bias cannot be proven, and thus the evidence is no more reliable or trustworthy than it was before.

I thought that this article was really interesting; the key issue raised seems to be that it is not science which causes problems, but rather the way in which it is used - as soon as human bias is introduced, scientific results can no longer be relied on for objective truth without considering the subjective context it lies within. In short, it is impossible for science to remain solely objective when used as a means of evidence in a human setting.

Power: Racism


Group-based Differences in Perception of Racism[1]

Group-based Motivated Perceptions of Racism

Belonging to a group fundamentally shapes the way we interpret and attribute the behavior of others (Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985), and we argue that perceptions of racism are similarly influenced by group membership. Social categorization theory suggests that people tend to identify others as members of one’s ingroup (i.e., “like me”) or outgroup (i.e.,“not like me”; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). This categorization influences our behavior, as we are often motivated to support and protect fellow ingroup members (Brewer, 1999; DiTomaso, 2013; Dovidio, Gaertner, Validzic, Matoka, Johnson, & Frazier, 1997; Smith & Henry, 1996). Social categorization theory provides insight into why Whites and Blacks may have different perceptions of racism: their different group-based motivations cause them to attend to different information. Blacks are motivated to detect early warning signs that they or another ingroup member will become a target of racism, adopting lower thresholds for cues that suggest racism (Richeson & Shelton, 2003; Shelton, Richeson, & Salvatore, 2005). However, Whites are motivated to avoid confirming the stereotype that Whites are racist (Apfelbaum, Sommers, & Norton, 2008; Goff, Steele, & Davies, 2008; Salvatore & Shelton, 2007). To satisfy this goal, Whites may use higher thresholds when detecting racism, applying the “racist” label only to ingroup members who behave in blatantly racist ways. As we will see, Whites’ and Blacks’ perceptions of racism diverge in part because they have different definitions of which attitudes and behaviors signal racism.

Individual Racism VS Structural Racism

Historically, racism was likened to a “disease” found in morally corrupt individuals (Allport, 1954; Duckitt, 1992). Thus, much research has focused on identifying racist individuals through their responses to implicit or explicit prejudice measures and taking steps to help them reduce their prejudiced attitudes and behavior (Monteith, 1993; Olson & Fazio, 2004; Paluck & Green,2009; Todd, Bodenhausen, Richeson, & Galinsky, 2011). However, by identifying “who” is prejudiced, we engender defensiveness and block productive conversation (Trawalter & Richeson, 2008). Furthermore, the traditional conception of racism as the behavior of White perpetrators acting against Black targets promotes group-based motivated perception as Whites and Blacks are motivated to avoid the “racist” label and to identify instances of racism, respectively. Whites may be motivated to not see racism (because their ingroup is the perpetrator) in the same situations where Blacks are motivated to see racism (because their ingroup is the target). Conceptualizing racism as a deficiency within people may provoke reliance on lay theories of racism or motivated comparison standards – factors where we know there are group-based differences. However, a broader conceptualization of racism may illuminate the overarching structural factors that create and sustain inequality between groups while reducing defensiveness. Shifting the lens outward to structural barriers that impede equality may create common ground between Whites’ and minorities’ perceptions of racism, which may, in turn, allow for further conversations.

What is structural racism?

In contrast to the individual notion of racism, structural racism encourages perceivers to consider widespread factors, such as those within an environment or societal context, that perpetuate racial inequality (Murphy & Walton, 2013). For example, studies of policies such as stop and frisk (New York Civil Liberties Union, 2014) or incarceration policies for drug-related offenses (Lowney, 1994) reveal that these policies disproportionately affect racial/ethnic minorities compared to Whites. These policies that have a disparate impact are more consistent with a structural notion of racism, yet conversations about racism tend to focus on disparate treatment (i.e., the ways that Whites and minorities are treated differently; individual racism). Research suggests that teaching about racism as a combination of disparate treatment and impact might help narrow the gap between how Whites and Blacks perceive racism. Increasing Whites’ knowledge about structural racism. Two studies by Glenn Adams and colleagues (Adams, Edkins, Lacka, Pickett, & Cheryan, 2008) illustrate how teaching about the structural (versus individual) nature of racism can shift how people perceive racism. In the first study, White students completed an online tutorial about Perceptions of Racism 275 © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Social and Personality Psychology Compass 9/6 (2015): 269–280, 10.1111/spc3.12181 stereotyping and prejudice. All participants received the same initial tutorial about racism, which defined key terms (i.e., stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination) and described similarities and differences between blatant and subtle racism. Then, participants were assigned to a standard or sociocultural tutorial condition. Students in the standard tutorial condition learned about the individual difference factors associated with prejudice (e.g., authoritarianism, religiosity, and conformity) as well as the automatic and controlled components of individual prejudice. That is, consistent with individual racism, this tutorial focused on ways to identify prejudiced people. Conversely, participants in the sociocultural tutorial condition learned about prejudice as a systemic phenomenon that affords privilege to some groups over others and were provided with examples of structural racism (e.g., stereotypes and prejudice as systemic associations). Thus, this tutorial emphasized prejudiced structures and policies more than prejudiced people. After the tutorial, participants’ perceptions of racism were assessed. The participants in the sociocultural racism tutorial were significantly more likely to perceive new examples of structural racism (e.g., “A Mexican-American man goes to a real estate company to look for a house. The agent takes him to look only at homes in low income neighborhoods”.) as indicative of racism compared to participants in the standard tutorial. There were no differences between groups on judgments of individual acts of racism (e.g., “Jack, a Black American man, walks past a group of young White American men, and hears them use a racial epithet”) – both tutorial groups believed those acts “counted” as prejudice. These effects persisted one week after the tutorial.

Thus, this first study demonstrated that, compared to teaching about the racism of individuals, teaching about structural racism shifted Whites’ perceptions of racism toward a more inclusive definition that mirrors the way that Blacks often perceive prejudice. Furthermore, a second study showed that the sociocultural (versus standard) lecture was more likely to engender support for policies aimed to combat racial inequality on a structural level.

These studies demonstrate that teaching about structural factors that perpetuate racism may help converge Whites’and Blacks’ perceptions of racism so that both groups attend to individual and structural racism. Carefully designed tutorials can be effective ways to change not only the ways people think about racism but also to align Whites’ egalitarian goals with support for policies designed to reduce racial inequality without provoking group-based defensiveness. Teaching explicitly about structural racism is not the only way to increase Whites’ acknowledgement of its role in impeding racial equality. One reason Whites may be reluctant to acknowledge structural racism stems from self-image threat (Lowery, Knowles, & Unzueta, 2007). Acknowledging structural racism can be uncomfortable for Whites because it requires acknowledging the (unearned) privileges associated with being an advantaged group member.Structural racism can inspire collective guilt at the privileges that advantaged group members receive (Blodorn & O’Brien, 2011; Unzueta & Lowery, 2008). Thus, interventions aimed to increase Whites’ acknowledgment of structural racism may do well to also alleviate the self-image threat that could accompany this process.

Two studies explored how affirming one’s self-image increases Whites’acknowledgement of structural racism (Unzueta & Lowery, 2008). In Study 1, White participants who were given the opportunity to describe the best parts of themselves (i.e., self-affirmation) were significantly more likely to endorse a structural notion of racism than non-affirmed participants. Furthermore, participants who had self-affirmed acknowledged that Whites received benefits and advantages in society (i.e., White privilege) more than non-affirmed participants. A second study manipulated self-image threat by giving White participants threatening or affirming feedback on an intelligence task. Again, participants who were affirmed endorsed a structural notion of racism more than participants in the threatening condition. In neither study were there differences in people’s acknowledgment of individual racism—all White participants endorsed this notion of racism to the same extent. In sum, these results indicate that Whites may be reluctant (276 Perceptions of Racism © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Social and Personality Psychology Compass 9/6 (2015): 269–280, 10.1111/spc3.12181) to think of racism as a structural problem because it is more threatening to their self-image than individual racism. However, tasks such as self-affirmation can reduce the threat associated with acknowledging structural racism, increasing Whites’ motivation to endorse racism as a structural and individual problem (see also Adams, Tormala, & O’Brien, 2006).

Syncretic When reading a book called 'The Polymath' by Waqas Ahmed, I came across a reference to something Philosopher David E. Cooper mentioned about truth. Polymaths usually take a "syncretic" approach to truth. The way to reach truth is to "gather many perspectives from which will emerge a common core". This 'common core' is the truth (or where it lies). This is actually similar to what I read in 'Knowledge Power' by Alan Wilson where he mentions that truth is in consensus. This is sort of a democratic way of approaching truth - majority rules. This is a very subjective outlook on truth and does not necessarily correspond with reality. I really recommend reading 'The Polymath' to see the evolution from interdisciplinary to disciplinary approaches to learning and education!

Eyewitness Testimony as Evidence


Eyewitness testimony, persuasive and highly regarded in the courtroom, plays a crucial role in the conviction of a defendant. The weight given to testimonies as evidence is as highlighted by Judge William Brennan, ““[T]here is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says ‘That’s the one!’”. However, wrongful convictions due to unreliable and inaccurate testimony has been a perennial problem— research suggests that 71% of wrongful convictions are a result of inaccurate statements given. (

Inaccurate testimonies can come about as a result of deliberate lies by witnesses, but more often than not, is a result of incorrect and inaccurate memory ( A witness’ memory of the event does not always accurately capture and portray the reality of it. Memory is described to be “a constructive, dynamic, and selective process that can be influenced by many factors". It is malleable; and can be distorted and/or contaminated by extreme stress, cognitive biases, leading questions by lawyers, schemas, conversations with other witnesses etc. ( ; Many researchers have tested and proven the ease of creating false memories in individuals.

Hence, while testimonies as evidence provide value to the justice system, they should only be carefully considered with the knowledge and understanding that eyewitness memory is fluid and subject to bias/error.