JUNK SCIENCE AND THE AMERICAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

A brilliant rebuttal of junk science in the courtroom.

A chilling account of forensic science—beloved of prosecutors, judges, and TV writers but often wildly inaccurate.

Fabricant, the Innocence Project's Director of Strategic Litigation, points out that before pharmaceutical companies can market a drug, they must prove that it works. Forensic science, on the other hand, is entirely unregulated. When allowing “experts” to testify, a judge is not required to rule on their expertise, only on legal precedent. Fabricant recounts cases of convictions and the junk science involved. Perhaps the most outrageous is bite mark analysis, but readers—especially those fond of TV detectives and their infallible crime labs—will be flabbergasted by his list of forensic techniques long used by labs, including the FBI’s, and proclaimed by highly paid “expert witnesses” that, when investigated by competent researchers, turn out to be unreliable or worthless. These include arson investigation; hair and fiber microscopy; lie detector tests; voice spectrometry; and analyses of handwriting, bloodstains, shoe and tire prints, and bullet lead. Even fingerprints do not come out unscathed in Fabricant’s rigorous investigation. In 2009, after years of hearings and testimony by genuine experts, the National Academy of Sciences issued a massive 300-page report documenting the worthlessness of junk science that outraged the forensic establishment. Prosecutors and district attorneys downplay the findings because almost all are elected officials, and getting convictions keeps them in office. The report is not law, so they and judges often ignore it, and juries “tend to believe what prosecutors tell them.” The author’s case reports and denunciation of junk science make fascinating reading, but this is not a story with a happy ending. As Fabricant shows, Americans seem obsessed with punishing evildoers regardless of the fallout, and their elected officials loudly proclaim agreement. The rate of incarceration in the U.S. is by far the highest in the world, disproportionately affecting Black Americans, who are “incarcerated at five times the rate of white people.”

A brilliant rebuttal of junk science in the courtroom.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63614-030-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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