We Humans Are Terrible Earwitnesses

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Over the weekend I wrote a short post about how terrible most people are as eyewitnesses. Today I got this email from JB, a regular reader:

Human beings are terrible “earwitnesses,” too. I’ve been a lawyer specializing in air crash litigation — from the defense side — for 33 years, and witnesses often claim to have heard what are, essentially, impossible sounds. My favorite involves turbine-powered helicopters (I was a military helicopter pilot before entering law school), which earwitnesses invariably report as suffering engine “missing” (irregular piston firing) just before a crash, when turbine engines — you guessed it — don’t have pistons. Occasionally, you get a good report from a sophisticated witness like a pilot or mechanic, but most of the time the best you can hope for is some indication of either sound or silence at a given point before impact, about which you have to fill in the source from a menu of the possible.

This is no surprise, of course. Eyes, ears, whatever. We humans are just unreliable witnesses, especially when we’re under stress. Unfortunately, most of the time it really matters, we’re under stress.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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