Monday, 10 September 2007

The McCann Case might make Turkeys of us all

One of the challenges all of us face when coming to any social judgement about the 'truth' of the desperately sad circumstances the Mcann family find themselves in is the rather disconcerting realisation that our normal use of 'common sense' in the prediction and explanation of social behaviour doesn't apply!

Common sense tell us... (and here we have 'empirical' evidence to support our view - based upon what the close family over the years and most of us over recent months have 'seen')...that the Mcann's are impeccable parents caught up in a nightmare of circumstances that none of us would ever wish to experience.

This is how we 'get by' on daily basis by working on the assumption that new situations will happen in the same way that similar situations have always operated in the past. A simple example would be, I know that if I drop a buttered knife on the floor it will get dirty, I have done this several times and it has always been the case, therefore the same will hold true for future instances that haven't happened yet.

What we are doing here is following a line of what is termed 'inductive reasoning'

We still apply these 'assumptions' to more complex human / social affairs. In the past the Mcann's have been exemplary parents, therefore they will be on all future occaisions. Confronting this line of thinking is a very hard pill to swallow.

The risk however is falling into the trap of what is known as naive inductivism which can be illustrated by the story of the turkey that gets used to the idea of being fed every day at 9 a.m. and that on each day that this occurs, it confirms and strengthens his belief that everyday at 9 a.m he will continue to be fed...until Thanksgiving or Xmas morning and his naive inductivism let's him down because he is killed for dinner!! The turkey was not justified in jumping from experience of the known to experience of the unknown.

The Portuguese investigatory process, and in particular the lack of information, confronts us with the fact that we are unable to 'confirm' anything. Because this seems to be our 'default' social expectation the absence of information causes great distress. We are unable, as we normally expect, to predict future outcomes based upon previous experience. We are... inducting naivley

Karl Popper suggested that we have to accept 'not knowing' and instead of looking to confirm our current assumptions we should explore the possibility of refuting our existing theories.

As counter-intuitve and unsympathetic as the Portuguese approach seems, maybe they are one step ahead of the rest of us Turkeys?

I have to say, that despite this 'academic' pondering, I still believe the McCann's did no harm to their daughter...I think we call it faith in human nature.


  1. Here's deduction for you. Kate McCann told interviewers when she looked at the room where Madeleine disappeared she saw that Cuddle Cat, Madeleine's toy was on top of a shelf too high for Madeleine to reach. Her admission was that the abductor placed it out of her daughters reach. This helps out in asserting the abduction theory but it lends little probability to any motive for why an abductor would give any thought to such an action. I would deduce from a lack of intuitive motive that this adds counter probability to a misleading admission. If there was some other similar like deliberate action that stood out as being off tangent to the act of just stealing the child then it may reinforce the "Out of Reach Cuddle Cat Proves Abduction" theory. However there's nothing more unusual to Madeleine disappearing other than Clever Kate's Cuddle Cat Confession.

  2. Hmmm an interesting deduction based on inductive use of testimony. I am assuming of course you weren't in the room to hear it first hand? :)

    There is also reliance on 'probability' which is an inductivist escape around the problem of not really knowing the 'facts'

    Great comment btw! very thought provoking Dudley

  3. RR, it's true. I don't have the facts and one can only speculate at this stage but I have been selective in my sleuthing and I theorize that Cuddle Cat holds a small but significant key to certain motive. In light of this I will point out that in physics certain theoretical equations have been postulated and found correct before proof was found through application.

    Lets assume the police collected testimony from the McCanns after the discovery of Madeleine's disappearance. From police here say we have Kate saying she tucked Madeleine into bed with her favorite toy Cuddle Cat. Police make an observational note either during or after the testimony that Cuddle Cat is on a ledge that happens to be too high for Madeleine to reach. We don't know if this was pointed out by the police or if Kate drew attention to this herself. If the police drew attention to this first then you have a passive inference by Kate to explain an abduction. If Kate drew attention to this first we have an active inference by Kate to explain an abduction. Since there is a fork in the road to this I can either stop or proceed. I will move down the road on passive inference because I believe that in Kate's testimony there would have been an indication of Kate's observation that Cuddle Cat was high on a ledge but we only hear of Kate's testimony that she put her daughter to bed with Cuddle Cat. Now we need to rule out every possibility that anyone other than the abductor put Cuddle Cat on that ledge. All people have to be off the hook including the police. If this is confirmed then we move onto plausibility. The cat on the ledge doesn't favor into an abduction theory by way of motive but rather by way of circumstantial evidence. By way of motive there shows a countering to the deliberation of just abducting the child. Cuddle Cat in no physical way would need to be so intently removed as an obstacle to the abduction since time sensitivity would drive the actions taking place. If one should theorize that this deliberate action was used to bargain for favoritism then the abductor would have to have known that this toy was of importance to Madeleine. Also it seems rather indirect for an abductor to use it to bargain when the abduction itself was very direct. I surmise that it was either an overlooked detail or a feeble minded attempt at leading the police towards an abduction theory. The only other possible scenario is if there were two abductors. One abductor takes the child while the other one has time and a habitual inclination to inadvertently put the toy on the ledge. I think at this point we need to add other evidence to rule out the abduction theory. Perhaps that is where forensics comes into play.

  4. This is an awesome (and I sincerely mean 'great') comment Dudley - I really like your demonstration of deduction and it is very persuasive. You coudl make a fortune if you are correct!

  5. RR, thanks for your favorable opinion. I posted my thoughts here because you have opened a door to exercising rational thought instead of entertaining wild speculation. There are some 4000 pages that have been compiled against the McCanns that a judge is looking over now. I am sure its not police doodling. If a trial is brought against the McCann parents, the prosecution will be focusing on the combination of forensics and motive. It isn't a slam dunk case because there is no witness (so far) and no body. What I tried to illuminate above may be beyond a common jury's reasoning capacity. It may not factor in as anything relevant beyond jurors hoping to have something more concrete like a witness testifying that they saw who did it. I think that juries now a days are somewhat handicapped in their ability to make informed decisions. I would be all in favor of a two or three tiered jury system where one tier is a jury of peers and the second is a jury of statistical probability analysts. At least we wouldn't have as many hung juries or juries who because they don't understand the concept of reasonable doubt fail to give conviction.

  6. I sadly lean to your view regarding the intellectual ability of many jurors and their sense making capability. Even people who ahve achieved a first academic degree can be quite pedestrian in their analysis and sythesis. Someone I know on jury service recently was utterly dismayed at the assumptive - daytime TV approach taken by co-jurors in an attempted murder case.

    It's interesting how this relates to the 'democratisation' of anything - voting, social-networking / media and how it is easy to be gulled into thinking that the majority view is always the correct view.

    Most people for thousands of years thought the Sun revolved around the Earth

  7. Making decisions is often like making a wager. It takes the right person with the right experience and the right evidence being at the right time to come up with the correct conclusion. All variables (person,experience,evidence and time) need to line up. This is why it is all by chance sometimes.Ultimately, jury decisions on a person's innocence or guilt is a passive process. A proactive process is having a way to know if someone is lying or not.
    I believe that one day there will be a device that can tell if someone is lying. But I also believe that it will need to be kept a secret because once people learn how it works, they will try to come up with ways to defeat it. Sort of like how people try to come up with ways to defeat steroid testing in sports. The nation that practices lie detection in their justice system the most is East India. It makes sense because East Indians are excellent liars (not to be prejudiced) I just know this from experience and not all East Indians are liars. But I think that we should investigate the techniques they are using and see if there is some scientific basis.

    Getting back to your point. I think we are lulled into consensus because many don't value critical thought beyond social opinion. The educational system gears itself towards didacticism and rarely invites critical thought.