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UK Police Told To Use Wikipedia When Preparing For Court 180

Posted by Soulskill
from the citation-needed dept.
Half-pint HAL tips news of UK prosecution lawyers who are instructing police to study information on Wikipedia when preparing to give expert testimony in court. "Mike Finn, a weaponry specialist and expert witness in more than 100 cases, told industry magazine Police Review: 'There was one case in a Midlands force where police officers asked me to write a report about a martial art weapon. The material they gave me had been printed out from Wikipedia. The officer in charge told me he was advised by the CPS to use the website to find out about the weapon and he was about to present it in court. I looked at the information and some of it had substance and some of it was completely made up.' Mr. Finn, a former Metropolitan Police and City of London officer and Home Office adviser, added that he has heard of at least three other cases where officers from around the country have been advised by the CPS to look up evidence on Wikipedia."
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UK Police Told To Use Wikipedia When Preparing For Court

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  • by ProfanityHead (198878) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:11AM (#28577599)

    After all, snopes is always correct.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:16AM (#28577625) Journal
    However, had it been defense lawyers coaching the cops to use wikipedia for official functions, it would have been hilarious.
  • Heh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:19AM (#28577645)

    I looked at the information and some of it had substance and some of it was completely made up

    Just like police testimony in general!

  • CPS? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by arth1 (260657)

    Is CPS such a common abbreviation that every reader is expected to know what it stands for?

  • by Phroggy (441)

    I'd rather have them look stuff up on Wikipedia than not do any research at all, I suppose. At least they'll be right some of the time.

    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by paintswithcolour (929954) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:59AM (#28577855)
      But what stops the police themselves editing Wikipedia, and then citing it back in court? It seems exactly the sort of thing the British police would do these days...
      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by westlake (615356) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @01:46AM (#28578051)

        But what stops the police themselves editing Wikipedia, and then citing it back in court?

        What stops the anyone from editing the Wikipedia and making use of it in court?

        • Re:Well... (Score:5, Funny)

          by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @03:40AM (#28578493)

          He... hehehe....

          "See, your honor, it's NOT illegal to buy weed provided you tried to buy it from a narc officer. Says it right here, look it up!"

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by mdwh2 (535323)

            Since when did deciding what the law was come to relying on expert witnesses or references? Even in cases where the interpretation of the law was being questioned, this would be based on legal arguments and previous cases. It would be just as nonsensical to look it up on Britannica.

            • Sure, c'mon, I pushed the envelope a little to make it even more ridiculous than it is, so it is easier to see how bad an idea it is.

              It's more to the point when, say, a tobacco corporation uses Wikipedia to prove that smoking is healthy because they just edited it to include a scientific study saying so.

        • What stops the anyone from editing the Wikipedia and making use of it in court?

          Resources, like time. I mean, seriously... have you tried contributing to wikipedia lately?

        • What stops the anyone from editing the Wikipedia and making use of it in court?

          If so, the other side will argue that the article misrepresents its references.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shentino (1139071)
        Thank god for history.
      • by Burning1 (204959)

        Incorrect testimony calls into question the reliability of a witness in any case. Obviously false testimony would do more to benefit the defendant than the prosecution.

      • How about the fact that they're not citing it in court? They're using it for background information so that they aren't totally ignorant on the subject in court. If they repeat, in court, something which is factually incorrect then the defence can call an expert to contradict the evidence and discredit the police officer.
      • But what stops the police themselves editing Wikipedia, and then citing it back in court? It seems exactly the sort of thing the British police would do these days...

        Nothing, this is why they should have to quote two independent sources. For example Wikipedia AND Britannica. Maybe even Google Books, while they are at it, or this locla library.

    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @01:13AM (#28577903)

      I'd rather have them look stuff up on Wikipedia than not do any research at all, I suppose. At least they'll be right some of the time.

      So is a broken clock.

      And this is not meant as a joke.

      • So is a broken clock.

        I don't think that's a fitting analogy. A better one would be a clock where a collection of internet geeks argue whether it is 2 PM or 3 PM, one insists it's 2 AM, and one insists time is not notable.

        • So is a broken clock.

          I don't think that's a fitting analogy. A better one would be a clock where a collection of internet geeks argue whether it is 2 PM or 3 PM, one insists it's 2 AM, and one insists time is not notable.

          and they all spend hours changing the setting on the clock to revert it to the "correct" time. Until, of course, the editors decide it's always 5 o'clock somewhere and prohibit further edits.

      • by Twinbee (767046)

        Within 10 mins accuracy, a broken clock has a 0.7% chance of being correct. I would think any arbitrary section from Wikipedia has higher chances than that no?

  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:30AM (#28577717) Homepage

    What makes this a problem? Is it a problem? Is the contention "what makes an expert" or that a supposed expert isn't able to recall the information from resident memory and experience?

    This is problematic, however, when wp provides non-factual information. In my mind, it calls to credulity the "expert witness" concept in general. If we've got expert witnesses having to look things up to provide testimony on them, what is their value? Especially in light of the supposed factual question.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hairyfeet (841228)

      I'll probably get modded down for this, but what the hell. the problem is they are using Wikipedia, which if you've ever read some of the snarky back stabbing BS their mods pull behind the scenes you would know is less like an encyclopedia and more like a little club that for some reason everybody trusts.

      Sure if the article you are looking for is on some boring crap that the mods won't give a fart about one way or the other it will probably be fine. But if a mod there decides he like his 'facts" better tha

      • by hey! (33014)

        There are many problems, but the key one is this: putting this information in the mouth of an "expert witness" is a misrepresentation of its authoritativeness.

        If you have a grizzled looking old cop in his best uniform testifying about all the ways a martial arts weapon can hurt somebody, you'd probably assume he's talking from experience. If you have a thirteen year old kid wearing his Bruce Lee pajamas (which he still sleeps in) reading from what you've been told is a printout of a web page, you'd treat

      • Remember this is some poor guy's life we are talking about here, so look it up in an actual book, not on something like Wikipedia. I really don't think asking them to open an actual book is too much to ask, do you?

        But studies have shown that on non-disputed articles (you know the ones with tones of warning as the top), Wikipedia is more reliable than any other encyclopedia, so if its some poor guy's life you owe it to them to use Wikipedia (and check citations) over the alternatives. As its been shown that expert witnesses can't always be trusted (e.g cot death incident), it's up to the defense to find flaws in the prosecutions expert witnesses anyway be them errors caused by bias/Wikipedia/encyclopedia Britannica/th

    • If we've got expert witnesses having to look things up to provide testimony on them, what is their value? Especially in light of the supposed factual question.

      What are you talking about? If you'd said that relying on information gathered only from Wikipedia calls into credibility of the expert witness, then I'd agree. I have been called on to provide expert testimony several times and I wouldn't have even thought of going into court relying only on my memory. The "value" of my testimony is my ability to analyse facts in my field to come up with an informed conclusion. To reach such a conclusion I have to "look things up". I would be more inclined to doubt the tes

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Opportunist (166417)

      Expert witnesses are rarely asked for book facts. Experts (at least in our courts) are usually asked for their opinion on a specific matter.

    • by petes_PoV (912422)
      The problem is that Wikipedia == hearsay.

      There is no "expert" validation of the information posted there. A lot of stuff is anonymous and that which isn't cannot be 100% validated to be from the individual who claims authorship. The writers cannot be cros-examined in a court (as an expert witness could).

      The other MAJOR problem is that it is too easy to fabricate a case. If the police were to start writing Wiki articles about the people they arrest, or the possessions they have when arrested, it becomes

    • Facts don't make an expert, If the court wanted facts they could look them up in a book (or wikipedia). I'm doing a degree in chemistry and despite what some of my tutors think being able to recall the specific heat capacity of n2o is fairly useless, however being able to interpret the data to give you useful information is what experts do!

  • by Norsefire (1494323) * on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:37AM (#28577753) Journal
    Judge: [Citation needed]
    Jury: Speedy delete
    • The worst thing is, that a citation means shit! The citation is just as easily made up as the article itself.
      Of course an Wikipedia, every mentioning of that problem is marked with [citation needed]. :P

      Yay.

      • These days, the citation is a news article based on the wikipedia article before someone marked it as [citation needed].
    • Lawyer: Objection
      Judge: [Citation needed]
      Jury: Speedy delete

      You know, this raises an interesting question... What happens if a prosecution is depending on Wikipedia "facts", but some article that could have been useful for the defense was deleted from wikipedia on the basis of not being "noteworthy" enough?

      Wikipedia really is becoming a monster. Which isn't surprising, considering that it's essentially an attempt to centralise and rule over what was once an open, freely spoken collection of facts (albeit w

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:38AM (#28577759) Homepage Journal

    When I read stories like this I imagine people going to sources other than Wikipedia (like, say, a textbook) and just doggedly believing everything they read. At least with Wikipedia (most) people have the sense to take everything they read with a grain of salt. Follow the citations people. Do your own research. If you're so easily convinced that something is "truth" then its not Wikipedia that's the problem.

    • by petes_PoV (912422)

      At least with Wikipedia (most) people have the sense to take everything they read with a grain of salt.

      That's exactly the problem - people don't question it. Especially when the defence solicitor is presented with the prosecutions "evidence" on the steps, on the way in to court (i.e. so late that they don't have time to examine it, or refute it - but not late enough that they can complain to the court that they never received it. This is a common practice.)

      Add in to this, most solicitors and judges are wholly clueless when it comes to technical matters. Most will not have heard of Wikipedia, and those who

    • If you're so easily convinced that something is "truth" then its not Wikipedia that's the problem.

      Citation or I don't believe you!

    • by hey! (33014)

      Sure, all sources are suspect, but not equally so. Expert testimony should meet certain quality standards.

      Think about the OJ trial. Johnny Cochran did not roll over and die in the face of forensic evidence in that trial. Athough OJ may have been guilty as hell, Cochran did his job professionally where the LAPD did not. This demonstrates an important point. Standards for what is presented as "expert opinion" do not preclude challenging such opinions. In fact standards should make challenges easier where

    • by themeparkphoto (1049810) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @10:33AM (#28580003)
      Here's my Wikipedia story: Several years ago, while reading the entry for my Alma Mater, I decided to add my name to the list of notable alumni. (I'm not notable.) About a year later, when I decided to google my name and was shocked to see myself at my University's website on a page they had enumerating their famous alumni! That's right--my college did its research on Wikipedia. I decided to write my own wikipedia entry page--which stuck!--and among other references linked back to my University's page showing that I was a notable alumni. (I've written a number of books, so I was able to have a number of references that looked legit enough that my page wasn't deleted.) Last year, while reading the glossy brochure for my University, there was my name on a page that talked about all the 'famous' people that had graduated there. My little Wikipedia vandalism had come full circle and became the truth! I do not trust Wikipedia, and use this as an example to prove how bad an idea it is.
  • citation needed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by benthurston27 (1220268) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @12:45AM (#28577797)
    "I looked at the information and some of it had substance and some of it was completely made up." I think I'd like a little more detail as to what facts he believed and which he didn't, or am I supposed to take his word for it, as he is an "expert". The beauty of wikipedia is it gives you some recourse to ascertain the truth or falsity of a statement via the citations, his statement did not. Wikipedia 1, Expert 0
  • At least in this country, the standards of evidence and what is permissible and what isn't is based on previous court rulings. These are called precidents. Secondly, precidents set by higher courts affect all courts beneath it, however precidents can (and are) reinterpreted to fit local circumstance. What does this have to do with wikipedia? Nothing -- yet.

    Here's the problem: The life of the law isn't knowledge (the present), it's experience (the past). The law can only ever look backwards. Which means that

  • by sootman (158191) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @01:00AM (#28577859) Homepage Journal

    Lawyer: "Mr. Finn, would you please tell us what you know about ninjas?"

    Mr. Finn: "Certainly. 1. Ninjas are mammals. 2. Ninjas fight ALL the time. 3. The purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people."

  • While I'm not saying Wikipedia is more creditable it's not like other sources of information are as reliable as one would think. During my academic days I would find journals riddled with illogical conclusions, misleading facts, and statistics w/ absolutely no citations or indications on where they came from. While tracking some facts down I found surprising evidence against what several highly credited researchers stated in their articles. Now back to wikipedia... at least wikipedia is convenient. I ca
  • How stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ebonum (830686) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @02:02AM (#28578129)

    Honestly, how stupid are people? I really don't understand. Wikipedia is an amazing source of information. Anyone who wants an introduction to a topic that they know nothing about can start with Wikipedia. I honestly don't know a better way to get an introduction on most topics. That said, people should believe, but verify what they read on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not perfect, but the error rate is lower than most sources. Furthermore, the Wikipedia error rate in some cases can be lower than retaining a consultant who is an expert on a subject. It all depends on what the expert is being paid to say. If money or people's lives depend on the answer, it is especially important to verify Wikipedia's information.
    At this point, I would find fault with someone doing research and did not review Wikipedia's entry.

    "Trust but verify" It doesn't get any more simple than that.

    Besides, Wikipedia's entries are rarely exhaustive. Wikipedia provides good overviews of subjects with an error rate lower than most other sources of information. The key word here is overview. Anyone interested in a deep understanding of topic should read the Wikipedia entry and then dig deeper.

  • by portforward (313061) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @02:07AM (#28578147)

    There is lots of very useful information on the internet. Martial Arts weapons are a perfectly good example of finding high-quality, even admissable evidence. There is a Youtube series devoted for researching just such a topic. Feel free to search for "Ask a Ninja".

    • by russotto (537200)

      There is lots of very useful information on the internet. Martial Arts weapons are a perfectly good example of finding high-quality, even admissable evidence.

      Here's the problem: Some poor slob is caught with an odd-looking knife, and is charged with carrying an offensive weapon. The cops go onto Wikipedia and find an article about said knife which describes it as a "Ninja weapon" and "used exclusively for cutting the throats of victims from behind". The cop goes into court and soberly testifies about how

    • The big deal is that Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia (or handbook or textbook), is not a primary source.

  • Excellent! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @02:35AM (#28578259) Homepage

    First, I think it is awesome to have another example of user generated media reaching the big leagues.

    Second, I think it is great for cops to seek truth through research. I would like to see more of this sort of behavior. It is primarily those cops who fail to seek truth through research that are problematic. If a good cop finds out he's got the wrong suspect, he will get that person cleared and go after the real perp. Bad cops are still a problem, but research doesn't change that.

    Third, as noted by others, Wikipedia is a good research tool when used the way all research tools should be; with skepticism, verification, and critical thinking. Cops, particularly detectives, are trained in such thinking. It is how they find bad guys. To the extent that they are not skilled in that art, it is because of a failure to retain sharp enough cops. Fix city hall or increase compensation, but don't blame Wikipedia.

    Finally, and I think most importantly, think about the fact-checking this provides for Wikipedia. If the opposing attorney knows that information is coming from Wikipedia, he or she is going to target that info and try to break it. They will present their contrary findings, if any, in court. Those proceedings will be public and can be used to vet Wikipedia content. Heck, the attorney him or herself might submit the corrections.

    • by durdur (252098)

      Well, you get credit for finding a positive side to the fact that the Web is a vast swamp of variable-quality and ever-changing information. But it is still that. Maybe that does help hone your research and thinking skills, but in fact pretty often even smart, careful people can be fooled or misled by online misinformation. And in a court case especially you don't want that. There's a reason why courts bring in expert witnesses and require some evidence that they actually have expertise.

  • by Psychotria (953670) on Saturday July 04, 2009 @02:58AM (#28578315)

    If they'd posted an "Ask Slashdot" story they'd have a million or so armchair experts willing to provide testimony at the drop of a hat.

  • If you're just learning for fun, then most of the time you can just read.
    If the topic is somewhat controversial, check out the discussion page to see what topics are being avoided due to lack of agreement, what points of view (POVs) are being squashed, and what POV pushing may happen to be in the article when you read it.
    Always pay attention to things that just don't seem right.
    If you're reading for something serious where you have to be right (a research paper, a trial, etc.), don't believe anything
  • Wikipedia is a nice tool. To look up something, for your personal, private use where a wrong information can't do much more harm than maybe make you look like a fool at the next party when you repeat it and someone who actually knows the subject tells you how it really is. No harm done. Don't get me wrong, Wikipedia is right about 99% of the time, fact checked and sourced, but the fact that ANYONE can edit also means that the moment you look up something might be JUST the moment some moron edited the page y

    • by swilver (617741)

      Except on wikipedia, you do know where it's been, and you do know who edited it last.

      Wikipedia is not 100% reliable, but I can atleast see if there's controversy, what the recent edits were and who did them. You can see the entire evolution of the article, including discussions taking place on the specific topic. It's a lot harder to find out who paid an "expert" witness, what edits were made (and by whom) in printed media or if there was any controversy behind the screens that may be important to your ca

  • What is this alleged "martial arts weapon" that was supposed to be written about and can we get a link to the article state when it was given to him?

  • There are an unbelievable number of weapons out there, and it is unlikely that all of them are documented in mainstream or even specialist sources. So where do you look for information on something that was taken off of the body of common thug. You can do guesswork or rely upon hearsay, or you can look at non-traditional sources that document esoteric things. The Wikipedia is probably one of the more reliable esoteric sources that you can use because it has a number of checks and balances built into it.

    U

  • As they would be tossed out of court after judgement.

    Morons.

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