RTHK Radio 3
28 February 2015
The final programme in the current series focuses on the concept of "evidence". We persuade people of the rightness of our theories and assertions by logic or by evidence, or a combination of the two.
Evidence is a key concept in a number of domains, though it means different things to a lawyer, a scientist, or a historian. We love evidence: fictional crime stories nearly always turn on evidential drama, and the classic detective like Sherlock Holmes is expert at making material discoveries – a footprint, a bloodstain, a stolen document – that prove the guilt or innocence of parties suspected – or unsuspected – by the police. These adventures may not, however, correspond very closely to actual police or legal procedure.
Evidence can support, test, or falsify a theory: it’s the main business of courtroom testimony, of humanistic research, and of the experimental method of the sciences. It may be direct or circumstantial. But what counts as evidence? Can it conclusively and permanently prove a truth? Both scientists and lawyers have strict rules about what constitutes evidence, how it can be obtained and presented, what makes it admissible or not. Interestingly, the testimony of both scientists and legal witnesses is underwritten by a declaration of honour, and this is one thing that makes the production and disputation of evidence an always fascinating human drama.
Douglas Kerr takes evidence about evidence from two eminent legal figures, Simon Young and Marco Wan, both Associate Deans in the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong. Click here to listen to the programme.