Saturday, May 30, 2009

All the World's Knowledge

At first sight Wolfram/Alpha is a type of database and search service akin to GOOGLE SEARCH. But Wolfram states (in an e-mail), "The launch of Wolfram|Alpha is just the beginning of our endeavor to make all of the world's systematic knowledge immediately computable...." Is this hype? More than hype? Is all [systematic] knowledge "in principle" computable? In the short or medium run? Does "all the world's [systematic] knowledge" include your knowledge that your Aunt Betty wanted to go to the supermarket last Wednesday but didn't make it because she forgot? Does it include some long-dead person's knowledge of what Alexander the Great said as he lay dying? Does it include knowledge of what was in John Wilkes Booth's heart as he shot Lincoln? Is inferred knowledge knowledge? If so, will all trials someday be conducted on Wolfram/Alpha? Probability theorists have done a pretty good job (in the academy) of monopolizing "probability." Are you prepared to let Wolfram or Google do the same to "knowledge"?

This and this too are a couple of newspaper articles about Wolfram/Alpha that Wolfram thinks are quite nifty.


The dynamic evidence page

Coming soon: the law of evidence on Spindle Law

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In (Further) Praise of Sonia Sotomayor

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is plainly "qualified" to sit on the Supreme Court. Her academic record is exemplary. Her experiences as a litigator and as a trial judge are also worth mentioning: with the exception of Souter, no member of the Supreme Court has experience in the litigation trenches. Without personal experience with the pretrial and trial process, it is very hard to understand how litigation works. It is important for a Supreme Court Justice to understand how litigation works.

Some observers have suggested that Sotomayor's consciousness of her own life story disqualifies her from joining the Supreme Court. The suggestion is ridiculous. Today no serious legal scholar or honest judge believes that law is a system of rules and principles that can be administered "mechanically," uninfluenced by personal judgment. Every judge has personal experiences that influence the way the judge reads the law. In this respect, Sotomayor is no different from any other judge. Moreover, Sotomayor's personal experience with relative poverty is a perspective the Court needs: it may offset to some degree the influence of the greater personal familiarity that almost all other members of the Court (except for Justice Clarence Thomas) have with wealth and economic privilege.

The "discovery" that law cannot be an autonomous system that is entirely independent of subjective judicial judgment of course raises a theoretical question (an important one) about the meaning and nature of the rule of law. However, until that broad theoretical question is settled, there is every reason to believe that Judge Sotomayor will act in the fashion that our society thinks judges ought to act: she pays close attention to statutes, precedents, constitutional language, the arguments of advocates, etc., when she wrestles with the legal puzzles that confront her; Judge Sotomayor does exactly the sorts of things we expect and want judges to do.


The dynamic evidence page

Coming soon: the law of evidence on Spindle Law

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Many Faces of Time in Organizing Evidence for Litigation and Possible Litigation

The concept of a time line is a simple one. But as I have noted earlier, the time line is a protean tool. It is also an essential one:
1. Events in issue can be arranged in the order they may have occurred. This is an event timeline.

2. Events in issue can be arranged in the order which they are arranged when presented to a trier of fact such as a judge or a jury. This type of arrangement -- one in which chronology is sometimes shuffled to some extent -- is involved in narrative.

3. The states and events connected to sources of evidence can be chronologically arranged. This is the history of sources of evidence (such as witnesses).

4. Evidence can be arranged chronologically to show when it was collected. This might be called a history of evidence collection.

5. Evidence can be arranged to show the chronological order in which it is presented to a decision maker. This might be called proof history or proof chronology.

Further variations on the time line are possible, useful, and important. For example, time lines can be developed on the basis of:
1. Actors in the events at issue

2. Actors and decision makers in the legal process of investigation and proof

3. Persons who may be sources of evidence, or witnesses

4. Tangible things that may be sources of evidence.

N.B. Here I have not even touched on the role of time in formation and deployment of a scenario or "causal hypothesis," which involves conjectures or hypotheses about the way events are connected in time.


The dynamic evidence page

Coming soon: the law of evidence on Spindle Law

MarshalPlan 2.6

I have tweaked MarshalPlan enough to justify awarding it a bigger number: MarshalPlan 2.6.

Below please find the still-applicable (and very slightly-modified) instructions and caveats.


How many lives does a cat have?

I have tweaked MarshalPlan once again. There is now a better chance than ever that the user will not get stuck in a "stack" with no way to navigate through the stack. (But now and then you will still have to utter an expletive and just exit the stack. You have my sympathy in advance, and I, I trust, your forgiveness [in advance].)

Oh yes: I am indeed talking about my evidence marshaling software.

Below is some general information about MarshalPlan and instructions for downloading the software.


Years ago David Schum and I developed the notion of an evidence marshaling system. We laid out the underlying theory of this evidence marshaling system in A Theory of Preliminary Fact Investigation. We developed a kind of computer embodiment, or computer-based expression, of our idea of an evidence marshaling system. Eventually we decided to call our system "MarshalPlan".

More than one year ago I released MarshalPlan 2.2. This moniker -- MarshalPlan 2.2 (now 2.6) -- amounts to a bit of self-mockery: MarshalPlan 2.x is not a prototype of a working application suitable for "real-time" use. Far from it! However, MarshalPlan 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, and 2.6 are more than mere scratchings on a page that state in words (text) how a MarshalPlan application might work.

MarshalPlan 2.6 is a software application based on the user-friendly programming language Revolution Enterprise(tm). This application -- MarshalPlan 2.6 -- illustrates -- with images, fields, buttons (links), and so on -- how a computer program to support the marshaling and assessment of evidence in preparation for possible trials and also for the conduct of trials, might work.


To retrieve MarshalPlan 2.8 click on this link. Download all of the Revolution stacks into a single folder on your computer. These stacks all have the suffix "rev". To make these stacks run properly you need a "Revolution Player." To get this free player, go here and download the version of the player (either Windows or Mac OSX or other) that you need. Then drag-drop the "Network.rev" icon onto the "Revolution Player" icon or open the Revolution Player icon and then open the Network.rev stack, or file, and then, using the Revolution Player, open the remaining "rev" stacks. You should be in business now: the buttons, or links, in the various stacks should allow you to navigate between the stacks as well as within the stacks.


SOME VERY IMPORTANT CAVEATS: There are numerous very serious flaws in the software application that you will retrieve by clicking on the links found above, and the application that you will retrieve has numerous gaps and limitations, including the following:

1. In the application itself there is very little explanation of the theory underlying the evidence marshaling strategies that are embedded in MarshalPlan 2.6.
To get that some of that theory and those explanations (but not all of it) you will have to (i) read the article I mentioned earlier, A Theory of Preliminary Fact Investigation, and (ii) wander about my personal web site. If you want a truly comprehensive theory-laden explanation of MarshalPlan, you will have to invite me to give a leisurely talk (preferably on a tropical island or some other attractive venue).
2. Some buttons and links don't work. When that happens, try other buttons and links. (Otherwise resort to expletives. You have my permission.)

3. Some important stacks are entirely missing. E.g., the "Narratives" stack. The most important missing stacks are those having to do with the development of evidential argument from evidence to factual propositions and with the assessment of the probative value of the evidence. For a discussion of the methods that might be used for this purpose, see Special Issue on Graphic and Visual Representations of Evidence and Inference in Legal Settings, 6 Law, Probability and Risk Nos. 1-4 (Oxford University Press, 2007).

4. MarshalPlan 2.6 is not set up to be linked to a database. This is a most serious deficiency.

But -- in my defense -- I repeat: MarshalPlan 2.6 is NOT a prototype of a working software application, suitable for use in real-time contexts.

MarshalPlan is, instead, an elaborate visual illustration of some of the directions that development of software for marshaling evidence in legal settings should take.


The dynamic evidence page

Coming soon: the law of evidence on Spindle Law