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November 2013

APA Database Synergy: Recent Help for an Expert Witness

APA's research databases can work together to provide you with a suite of information about a topic.

For example, consider a young psychology professor asked to testify as a defense expert witness on the fallibility of eyewitness identification in a sexual assault case. Although she has a doctorate in psychology and law and is confident of her command of the research, she is new to court testimony and would like practical advice on the behavior of decision makers and successful courtroom testimony. She has an APA PsycNET Gold individual subscription, and so has access to APA's core databases. She has little lead time, and so she needs information she knows is authoritative and she needs it quickly.

An index term search for "expert testimony" and "witnesses" limited to full text published in the past year yields 11 results across databases.

Knowing that PsycCRITIQUES is the place to turn for peer reviews of current works, she looks there first for guidance. Pay dirt! She finds a review of Testifying in Court: Guidelines and Maxims for the Expert Witness (2nd ed.; Brodsky, 2013) that is specifically on point. The reviewer, cognitive psychologist Curt Carlson, is a professor at Texas A&M University whose primary research area is recognition memory and decision making involved in eyewitness identification.

Carlson's review of Testifying in Court describes it as "a practical guide, a kind of do-it-yourself pamphlet on expert courtroom testimony." Our novice expert is pleased to note that there are chapters specifically on eyewitness testimony and how to deal with intimidation from cross-examining attorneys, and Carlson reviewed a couple of the expert witness techniques used in the book and attests to their usefulness from his own experience. He also noted some aspects of the book he found problematic, most notably the alphabetical ordering of chapters.

Overall, the recommendation is positive enough that our novice witness wants to read it, and read it as soon as possible. This is an APA-published work. Though it was published in 2013, within the past year, it is no longer under embargo, and PDFs of all chapters are available in her PsycBOOKS subscription. By going to the Book record in PsycBOOKS, she can access the Table of Contents of the book, review the abstract for each chapter, and go directly to any content she needs.

Among the many chapters that will be right on point for her are the following:

  • Transformative Moments
  • Vigorous Cross-Examinations and Vigorous Answers
  • The Well-Dressed Witness
  • Your Expertise Used Against You

To replicate the search, limit to full-text databases, PsycARTICLES, PsycBOOKS, PsycCRITIQUES, and PsycEXTRA, search for"expert testimony" and "witnesses" as index terms, and restrict the search to the past year.

July 2013

Folly

Recently on my way into work I passed a middle school and a group of kids loudly celebrating the classes they would not be taking this summer. That history came in for a particular drubbing bemused me. How can anyone not find history interesting?

Take, for example, our political history. True, in their current incarnation our politicians are hysterical extremists effectively clogging the national plumbing (according to Harper's, Congress was found to be "less popular than head lice, carnies, and the rock band Nickelback, but more popular than Ebola and meth labs"). Dumb? Absolutely. But boring? Hardly. And original? Sadly, no.

This first-of-summer post seems like a good time to show my young historyphobes how wrong unbalanced hyperbolic opinion can make one. Over the year as I search PsycBOOKS classic books, I note ridiculous as well as useful historical research, and I'd like to share the winner from last year's collection of follies.

Meet Horace Fletcher, author of Menticulture, or The A-B-C of True Living (1896). In an appeal for the adoption of bloomers (loose-fitting trousers for women, youngsters), he solemnly compared the ordeals of slavery and the American Civil War with its catastrophic loss of life to the horrific demands of being fashionable. And to Fletcher, it was the war that was the lesser of the two evils.

Here are a few words from Mr. Fletcher. In the chapter "Slaves or Freeman" he noted that "not long ago a great war was fought over human body-slavery at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives." He then makes the following observation:

Negro slavery in America was, however a mild and beneficent institution, as compared to the voluntary servitude to Mercenary Fashion, which enthralls so many at the present time. Mercenary Fashion…costs Society more lives and property yearly, than all that was wasted during the war of the Rebellion."

So, by Fletcher's accounting, more than 650,000 people are ruthlessly killed each year by their own clothing, and the wearing of corsets — no doubt unpleasant — is a greater hardship than having no right to one's own labor, family, movements, or body.

Is it wise to make this foolishness available as full text, to index it so others may read it? Is this history? I think so, if only as an object lesson. Each generation may have a lien on folly, but none owns it outright. For many reasons, the ideas in some historical text can be jarring to 21st century mores, but some ideas are folly whenever they were written. Please, kids, learn to reason and balance ideas — and at least find out something about where we come from.

February 2013

On Holy Ground

Did you know that the word psychology literally translates to "study of the soul"? For most people, during great swathes of human history, it has been religion, and those who spoke in the name of religions, who have provided answers to questions about who and what we are and what health and illness are. Thus, an archive of psychology is necessarily also an archive of religious and philosophical writings.

PsycBOOKS Classic Books collection represents that well. (Indeed, the oldest work in the collection is Saint Augustine's, 1620, Of the Citie of God.) The religious books also reflect the changes in the world in which they were written. Thus, a certain "because I said so" tone to the works expands to include ever-more appeals to reason and nature, as history moves past the cultural movements of the 17th and 18th centuries in which intellectuals challenged ideas grounded in faith in order to advance knowledge through the scientific method.

I've searched PsycBOOKS from the 17th to mid-19th century, limiting my findings by keyword "religion" and books not chapters. Unsurprisingly, the search is robust and returns almost 100 works. The titles are fascinating (as are the snatches I actually read), flashing messages from the lighthouses of our past. Here are just a few:

  • Digby, K. (1644). Two treatises in the one of which, the nature of the bodies; in the other, the nature of man's soule; is looked into: In a way of discovery, of the immortality of reasonable soules.
  • Mosley, N. (1653). Psychosophia: or, Natural & divine contemplations of the passions & faculties of the soul of man, in three books
  • Hale, M. (1677). The primitive origination of mankind, considered and examined according to the light of nature.
  • Smith, S. S. (1815). A comprehensive view of the leading and most important principles of natural and revealed religion: Digested in such order as to present to the pious and reflecting mind, a basis for the superstructure of the entire system of the doctrines of the Gospel.
  • Cogitans, J. (1824). The spiritual mustard pot: containing a demonstration of the existence of God; answers to three objections to the divine origin of the scriptures; and an essay on the origin of religion.
  • Rauch, F. A. (1844). Psychology; or, A view of the human soul; including anthropology, adapted for the use of colleges.
  • Voltaire, & Rousseau, J. J. (1845). Voltaire and Rousseau against the atheists; or, Essays and detached passages from those writers in relation to the being and attributes of God.

For all the constant chatter we hear about how we live in a time of heady change, an hour spent in the PsycBOOKS classic books collection can put history into better perspective.

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