I remember the first time, sitting in a lecture hall, that a psychologist told me eyewitness testimony is rarely accurate.
Or wait—I actually don't, because my memory for mundane lectures from my college years is very fuzzy.
What I do remember is feeling like years of watching CSI and Law and Order had deceived me. Eyewitness testimony, on the silver screen and in real courtrooms, can be very convincing—even more so if that eyewitness is nudged by law enforcement officials into a false sense of confidence. Still, while science has told us time and time again that eyewitness testimony cannot be trusted, it remains a major factor in criminal cases. The Innocence Project reports that 73 percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases resulted from mistaken eyewitness identification.
This was a topic of a recent forum, "The Science of Justice: A Matter of Opinion," presented by the World Science Festival. But the presenters didn't just talk about the unreliability of eyewitnesses—they proved it, by having a mysterious "assailant" storm into the room and steal an iPad from a presenter during the discussion. Later, the audience was asked to identify the perpetrator from a line-up of six mugshots. See the (depressing) results in the video below. —Bettina Chang