At the IAFN conference last week you probably heard me say this several times: be a demanding and conscientious consumers of education. This might just be my mantra for 2019. If I’ve learned anything from listening to as much testimony as I have this year, it’s that people are going to courses and conferences and swallowing wholesale what they are learning there without doing the deep dive. They are accepting as gospel what people teach simply because they are given a national (or even regional) platform, and then turning around and regurgitating that information on the stand. The problem is, that strategy won’t get you much past the direct exam, and even then, it’s pretty tough. If you don’t have a firm understanding of the material to which you are testifying, you cannot answer questions that probe the second or third layer down. And those questions will come. I promise they will. Memorizing training material won’t get you there. It will introduce you to what you need to know. And then it’s up to you to do the work.
Good education (and good educators) will give you source material. If there are statistics or metrics or numbers of any sort cited in their presentations, they will tell you where they came from. Then it is up to you to go to those sources and read them for yourself. Determine whether they apply to all circumstances or only some. Follow the footnotes to other articles that may contradict or expand upon the ideas in the original article. If they’re older, do a quick PubMed search and see if there’s newer information that has been published that may be useful. And then consider whether you might bring that information into court. Because testimony requires some work up front, and not just pretrial prep with counsel. The onus falls on you to do that work.
If you receive materials or see slides from presenters and they don’t include citations? Ask for them. Be a demanding and conscientious consumer of education. It is completely acceptable to ask for sources*. We are people of science. Science is what informs our opinions (along with clinical experience). It matters not at all how famous the educator, the course, the conference, or the academic program is–no one is above providing sources for their assertions. And if the presenters won’t or can’t give you that information? This is not information that should be the basis for any testimony you plan to give.
Every opportunity for testimony is an opportunity to be better. No one starts out a flawless expert, and errors in testimony can happen to even the most seasoned expert. But it’s possible to make sure you are approaching testimony from a position of strength (whether testifying for prosecution or defense) by ensuring your science is current, relevant, and on point. Be a demanding and conscientious consumer of education.
*I am also of the opinion that if all the source material simply consists of the presenters’ own work, that should also be consumed with a grain of salt.
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