"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When Perjury Destroys Justice

Rafael Palmiero, the first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and one of only four players to have hit more than 500 homeruns and 3000 hits, testified before the House of Representatives subcommittee on the illegal use of steroids. He looked at the interrogators, pointed at them with all the sincerity he could muster and said, “I have never used steroids.”

Fast forward several months. As a result of random drug testing it is now clear that Palmiero was using steroids.

Newspaper accounts blasted him for hypocrisy and an obvious lie, albeit he now says “he never intentionally used steroids” – an alteration in his statement that is probably impossible to prove.

What the press stories omitted, however, is that Palmiero’s lie was made under oath; in other words, he engaged in the lie of lies or perjury.

Here in unvarnished form is one of the great unmentioned issues of our time. Lying under oath has become a common practice undermining our system of law and justice.

As a dear friend of mine noted when his litigation was slogging through the court system, “Perjury is the problem with America.” As he pointed out, “Our defendant perjured himself in court documents to an astounding level…when we discussed whether this was actionable, most lawyers laughed. ‘Everybody lies. Forget about it. No one cares. Get on with your life.’”

Of course getting on with your life means rejecting fundamental principles on which the nation was founded. Our pledge of allegiance does proudly include “liberty and justice for all.” But what kind of justice is possible if perjury is permissible?

Many lawyers are passively complicit in this practice. After all, the more lies, the more delays, the more tactics to drag out the procedure, the more hours to be billed. At the root of this national problem are judges and district attorneys who allow perjury to occur as standard operating procedure. If perjury isn’t accompanied by an implicit act of enforcement, then it is tantamount to a non-event.

Civil perjury is a crime that has fines and possible imprisonment attached to it, but it is almost never enforced. Like mandatory long-term drug abuse penalties, a potential seven year prison term for perjury often militates against enforcement.

It may seem simplistic, but suppose the court system no longer tolerated lying. Suppose a realistic penalty were imposed, one that was fair and, at the same time, recognized that perjury was an egregious act that undermined our legal system. My suspicion is this would lead to a major transformation – a salutary transformation – in the American legal system.

I can understand why Rafael Palmiero lied before a Congressional Committee. His baseball achievements make him a virtual shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. However, this disclosure about steroid use puts his accomplishments in a new light. He is simply one of those “juiced” athletes who ignored the rules.

The same might be said of hundreds of defendants who believe lying is better than serving a prison sentence or they have rationalized perjury as a legitimate defense position.

If we avert our gaze to this growing problem, America will emerge with a post-modern legal belief that truth can never be obtained. For those who accept this contention, a system without truth is also a system without justice. At that point we might as well rely solely on what defendants tell us and ignore the factual basis for any judicial procedure.

This is a slippery path we are on. Should the public not awaken to the issue our court system could go the way of the dinosaur – an interesting relic of the past, but one that has little relevance to the present.

45 comments:

Tlaloc said...

I'd love to see perjury more effectively prosecuted. As I've said in the past maybe we can start with the heads of all the mjor tobacco companies, since they...you know...lied to congress about the addictiveness and health risks of their product.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

I would also love to see that. I suspect that just about every police officer who has ever testified in court would be in jail now.

Hunter Baker said...

Dr. London is quite right about perjury. Back when I was working with the Rutherford Institute, I was asked to do research on perjury because of you-know-who's truth problem before a grand jury. My research confirmed that a very high standard has to be met in order to prosecute for perjury, so high that it virtually never happens. I agree that the issue needs to be revisited.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But everybody lies about sex. And steroids.

Tlaloc said...

One rather key difference however about the Clinton case is that while he did perjur himself (and most assuredly shouldn't have) he was only in a position to do so because iof a ridiculous witch hunt. Unless I'm mistaken a blowjob is not actually a crime. A blowjob from an employee to a superior is also not a crime (although often rather seedy because of the power issues and in general a bad idea).

In other words while Clinton should not have lied he also should never have been under oath testifying about the matter in the first place. Public opinion pretty roundly refuted the republican attempt to paint the whole issue as a big deal.

As I've said before there are some very legitimate grievances to be made about Clinton's presidency. The Lewinsky affair showed that republicans couldn't seem to figure them out.

Hunter Baker said...

It has to do with what you expect out of a leader. Many Americans, though not a majority, want personal moral leadership and inspiration. Bill wasn't much good for that.

Just to reiterate for the umpteenth time, he got into the Monica mess because he had to answer questions about Paula. He had to answer questions about Paula because she was suing him and no American, including the pres., is above legal contest.

Tlaloc said...

"It has to do with what you expect out of a leader. Many Americans, though not a majority, want personal moral leadership and inspiration. Bill wasn't much good for that."

No president can be. The political dirty fighting needed to rise to that level of power precludes any potential for "moral leadership."



"Just to reiterate for the umpteenth time, he got into the Monica mess because he had to answer questions about Paula."

Remind me again how getting a blow job from Lewinsky is connected to the Paula jones suit...
(p.s. the way the GOP in general and coulter in specific abused Paula Jones was truly disgusting)

Kathy Hutchins said...

The Baltimore Orioles are owned by Peter Angelos, a man who got rich enough to do things like buy major league baseball teams by the aggressive practice of law at the plaintiffs' bar. Most of his big ticket cases were dubious asbestos torts. Peter Angelos may be, in my book, bottom feeding pond scum, but he is without question a canny attorney, one of the smartest personal injury lawyers in the world. Peter Angelos, of all people, should have a solid understanding of the meaning and ramifications of the word 'perjury.'

When Jose Canseco published his telltale book which fingered Palmiero as a steroid user, Peter Angelos threatened to sue Canseco. Now we know Canseco was telling the truth, and Palmiero and Angelos were pulling the Park Heights bully-boy routine. Sure, perjury perverts the system of justice. But let's follow it up the chain of command. If Angelos knew what he should have known, and said what he did, he should at the very least be disbarred. MLB locked Marge Schott out of her own front office just for stupid mouthing off. If they let Angelos off, it confirms that Bud Selig is just man enough to push around senile female drunkards, and no more.

Tlaloc said...

By the way did anyone else notice that Michael Behe flipped out and attacked the NAS and AAAS as being deceptive and malfeasant?

The Liberal Anonymous said...

Well, Tlaloc, as every great scientist knows, the way to discover things about the universe is through political attacks on your enemies. Research and reasoned response to criticism are for the weak.

Tlaloc said...

Oh and Wilma is looking very likely to be our fourth major storm to hit the US this year.

James Elliott said...

I heard on NPR at about noon PST that Wilma is now the strongest hurricane ever recorded...AND IT'S COMING RIGHT FOR US! And by "us," I mean Florida.

Matt Huisman said...

"Well, Tlaloc, as every great scientist knows, the way to discover things about the universe is through political attacks on your enemies."

The other sure way to discover things is to dodge debates with people who challenge your ideas. Oh wait...that's not Behe.

Tlaloc said...

"The other sure way to discover things is to dodge debates with people who challenge your ideas. Oh wait...that's not Behe."

Behe is perfectly welcome to have published in a scientific journal a paper on Intelligent Design...

...If he could write one.

But of course he can't because ID isn't a scientific hypothesis. SO he's stuck writing dick and Jane books like "black box." And then he lashes out at credible scientists. It's kind of funny in a sad way.

Matt Huisman said...

So far (and I could be wrong) I have not been that impressed by the answers to the questions he raises. I agree that ID is not a fully-formed scientific hypothesis, but it seems like the dismissal of his arguements is done in such a way as to make me believe that a worldview is being protected rather than scientific fact.

I didn't see the statement you're describing, but it strikes me as the kind of thing that someone who is being ignored (rather than engaged) might say.

Hunter Baker said...

Actually, Behe wrote a book THAT HAS STILL NOT BEEN ANSWERED. There are several attempted answers, but none successful.

Tlaloc said...

"Actually, Behe wrote a book THAT HAS STILL NOT BEEN ANSWERED. There are several attempted answers, but none successful."

Hunter, Behe's book was answered before he ever wrote it. There was nothing new in it. All he did was take the old, and thoroughly debinked, eye-dilemma argument and dress it up in some math. The idea of irreducible complexity is simply false. The structures he claims cannot work without all the associated parts are indeed found in nature in various vestigal stages and work just fine. In other words there was not a shred of originality or accuracy to his claims.

Feel free to list off any argument of Behe's that hasn't been exhaustively debunked and I'll be sure to consider it.

Tlaloc said...

"I didn't see the statement you're describing, but it strikes me as the kind of thing that someone who is being ignored (rather than engaged) might say."

Here is the article.

Tlaloc said...

Wilma is now the strongest hurricane in recorded history.

Hunter Baker said...

Read the book, T. I urge the same to anyone else. I was impressed by it. I also urge people to try the Dembski edited volume "Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Doubt Darwin."

The Liberal Anonymous said...

You were impressed by it because you are scientifically illiterate.

I know it's ad hominem, but frankly, it's true.

James Elliott said...

ID is simply, irrefutably not science. It's barely passable philosophy of science and bad philosophy in the bargain. What it is, if you take its assertions logically, is somewhat interesting theology: As Tom Junod has pointed out, according to ID you can have an infinitely intelligent designer or an infinitely moral designer, but not both. It has some very interesting implications as a line of thought, but for religion rather than science.

ID is not falsifiable, provable or testable, not on any level. It is therefore not science. It's really not a hard concept to grasp, but for some people, basic scientific methodology appears to be harder to get grip on than a snake covered in Crisco.

Tlaloc said...

"By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. [1996, p. 39]"

One of Behe's mistakes is to believe that a structure need be produced "directly" (as he uses the term above). On the contrary a great many biological structures appear to have risen for one purpose and then ended up serving another. Tails were not initially intended as prehensile limbs but as balancing appendages. Yet later refinement made them prehensile in certain species leading to a vastly different purpose.

While he might be right (actually he isn't) that IC would prevent the direct evolution of complex structures we have simple proof hat it is irrelevent since indirect evolution of complex structures happens all the time.

Seriously Hunter, there's no shortage of credible scientists who've shown in detail how Behe is wrong. I know you WANT to believe him but that means you have to be all the more critical of his work to make sure you aren't fooling yourself.

Jay D. Homnick said...

The Republicans "abused" Paula Jones? That is utterly insane.

The Democrats trashed Paula Jones. James Carville called her "trailer trash" on national TV.

Matt Huisman said...

"But of course he can't because ID isn't a scientific hypothesis."

Does he need to fully develop an alternative theory to raise some doubts about the prevailing theory? Isn't what Behe/Dembski are doing the same thing as saying that the current naturalistic explanations to their observations are weak?

I would expect to see more engagement from the scientific community showing how strong the evidence in favor of the current position is, rather than spending so much time shutting Behe/Dembski out based on the limitations of scienctific methodology.

"Seriously Hunter, there's no shortage of credible scientists who've shown in detail how Behe is wrong. I know you WANT to believe him but that means you have to be all the more critical of his work to make sure you aren't fooling yourself."

I may want to, but I don't need to believe Behe/Dembski. Naturalists are the ones that NEED to defeat ID.

That said, I do appreciate that you have made your arguements with the assertion that scientific evidence refutes ID (as opposed to attacking ID's limitations as a rival theory). Are there any links available to discussions/papers traded between sides?

James Elliott said...

Huisman, that's just the point: ID CANNOT be a rival theory by the very basics of scientific methodology. Saying that by merely asking questions about evolution qualifies ID as a scientific theory is like ruling on the theory of gravity by having Zogby conduct a poll. This is why scientists don't engage ID. It isn't SCIENCE. It simply cannot be by the definitions of the field. It's an argument between laymen and at best a theological/philosophical question (and, I'll concede, a potentially interesting one).

Now, if you wanted to argue that all students should attend a philosophy class and wanted to make ID a part of a unit on the philosophy of science and/or reason, that'd be fine. Students should learn philosophy, and I regret that I had to be self-educated (and therefore imperfectly so) on the topic.

Tlaloc said...

"The Republicans "abused" Paula Jones? That is utterly insane."

Uh yeah, Paula wanted to settle and Coulter talked her out of it because she wanted to use the case to attack Clinton. Imagine how much pain She went through all on account of Couter's ambition.


"The Democrats trashed Paula Jones. James Carville called her "trailer trash" on national TV."

That's true too. Don't imagine that because I find the Republican's abuse of Paula Jones abhorrent that I don't also find the Democrat's smearing of her seamy (and Carville is a pretty revolting guy, he's the dem's Rove). Of course after the Republicans were done using her they dropped her like a hot potato and started smearing her too.

Tlaloc said...

"Does he need to fully develop an alternative theory to raise some doubts about the prevailing theory?"

No, of course not, and if all he wanted to do was raise questions about the current theory that'd be fine. But that's not his agenda at all. He has his own pet philosophy that he wants to displace evolution despite the fact that it's not a scientific theory.



"I would expect to see more engagement from the scientific community showing how strong the evidence in favor of the current position is, rather than spending so much time shutting Behe/Dembski out based on the limitations of scienctific methodology."

They have shown the strength of the theory. The problem is that the detractors are uniformly either grossly uneducated on how science works or con men. The strengths of evolution have been on trial ever since the theory was proposed and it's still going strong. It's one of the best supported modern theories and I don't make that claim at all lightly.



"Naturalists are the ones that NEED to defeat ID."

We all NEED to defeat ID because the alternative is the complete undermining of scientific inquiry. It is the retardation of our culture back to the dark ages, you know the period when the church dictated what was real and what wasn't...



"Are there any links available to discussions/papers traded between sides?"

Sure, look here. Some of the links are broken others work. Even the broken ones you may be able to google the name and find the paper mirrored somewhere.

Matt Huisman said...

"Huisman, that's just the point: ID CANNOT be a rival theory by the very basics of scientific methodology. Saying that by merely asking questions about evolution qualifies ID as a scientific theory is like ruling on the theory of gravity by having Zogby conduct a poll. This is why scientists don't engage ID. It isn't SCIENCE."

I don't claim ID to be a valid scientific theory, and even if irreduceable complexity were true I wouldn't want/expect scientists to 'settle' for it.

I'm only interested in ID to the extent that the challenges to the absolute certainty of naturalist/materialist origins of life may help others identify the elements of faith that are involved in their worldview.

I don't get into discussions regarding ID everyday, but up until Tlaloc provided a link to some scientific refutations of ID (thanks), most of the discussions with the anti-ID crowd have been argued along the lines that you are using James. There's nothing wrong with your arguement, but it has always seemed odd to me that someone wouldn't just say 'ID's crap, go look at a discussion between Behe and Dr. Materialist on website X' (which is what Tlaloc did...I haven't gone through it yet) rather than throw out the 'ID isn't a theory' arguement.

Matt Huisman said...

Since we've wandered off into talking about naturalism/materialism...

Does a naturalist/materialist worldview necessarily mean that one has a determinist point of view similar to that found in this article?

I assume that it does (for most), but it's not really my bag...does anyone have a different take?

James Elliott said...

I don't know about that, but the conflation of evolution with a materialist point of view is only because prominent atheists, like Gould and Hawkins, are more vocal than evolutionary scientists who find no inconsistency with their faith in a god of some sort.

It's a false dichotomy.

Tlaloc said...

"Does a naturalist/materialist worldview necessarily mean that one has a determinist point of view similar to that found in this article?"

I think an important distinction to make is whether a person has an overall naturalistic/materialisic view or if one is using one for a given exercise.

For instance I do not have a materialistic world view in total. But when I am engaged in a scientific activity I use a materialistic "filter" if you will because it is a necessary part of science in a particular way.

This is precisely why I've always tried to stress that Science is a fantastic way to answer certain questions, but only certain questions. There are very legitimate worthwhile questions which simply exist outside of the realms that science can investigate.

connie deady said...

But everybody lies about sex. And steroids.

More slings and arrows Tom? How can I have dialogue with you based on this? Let me say, first that I've never thought Bill Clinton was a man of ethics or morality. Second, let me say that it was wrong to allow a sitting President to be sued civilly. I believe that - the office deserves dignity. Should we allow Valerie Plame to sue Bush over the damages caused to her employment for being outed (rhetorical question only). No. Presidents shouldn't be sued.

I wish that people would have a philosophy of what they believe is right, then analyze any issue in terms of that philosophy and be consistent letting the chips fall where they may. Instead we decide what we should think politically and then adjust our ethics to fit.

connie deady said...

Hunter, (if I may call you that) I remember when I got married to my criminal defense lawyer husband and started working for him.

I always believed that lawyers sat down with their clients and decided on a "story" that you could tell the jury. My husband was horrified that I would think that. He explained to me that as a lawyer he ethically could not put a client on the stand knowing that he would perjure himself.

It becomes a tricky game with lawyers. Again, it's all about ethics and standards. If a lawyer believes it's a noble profession, he won't defile it by allowing perjured testimony.

Too many these days see it as a game of winning and losing. For civil lawyers it's about money, for those in criminal law it's about sending a person to jail or keeping him out. Justice? A lost concept.

Matt Huisman said...

I don't know about that, but the conflation of evolution with a materialist point of view is only because prominent atheists, like Gould and Hawkins, are more vocal than evolutionary scientists who find no inconsistency with their faith in a god of some sort.

It's a false dichotomy.


Hah! Here I was just trying to confirm that determinism is standard materialist perspective... and you two throw a curve ball at me. Someday I'll have to find out the 'why' behind your openness to 'something more'.

In the meantime, I'll look for your support next time James when the religious conservatives start complaining that Gould & Dawkins are 'preaching' their worldview under the cover of science =]

Matt Huisman said...

This is precisely why I've always tried to stress that Science is a fantastic way to answer certain questions, but only certain questions. There are very legitimate worthwhile questions which simply exist outside of the realms that science can investigate.

Well, I certainly agree with that. One thing that intrigues me about your response, how does a materialist (or maybe I should say secularist) avoid determinism? I have to admit that yours and James replies caught me a bit off-guard, but I've been trying to look at the arguements against determinism from that perspective, and so far haven't seen anything interesting.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, and Dr. London---nice to see you here again, and sorry your fine thoughts turned into all this. Even I'm guilty now of perverting your thread. I kick my own ass.

Perhaps things will change.

Ms. Deady was true, though. A Reform Club Hall of Famer in my book.

James Elliott said...

In the meantime, I'll look for your support next time James when the religious conservatives start complaining that Gould & Dawkins are 'preaching' their worldview under the cover of science =]

If they were using science as a dodge for their atheism, you'd have it.

Just to reiterate for the umpteenth time, he got into the Monica mess because he had to answer questions about Paula.

None of which was Starr's purview. Starr was investigating a shady real estate deal from long before Clinton's presidency.

Hunter Baker said...

Liberal Anon., your claim of my scientific illiteracy would carry more weight if it were not for the fact that there are people who clearly qualify for the label "scientist" who endorse ID.

Of course, I never made any final statement about theory. I just said I thought the two books in question are worth reading and make strong arguments.

Ed Darrell said...

Behe and Dembski have done everything they can to avoid having a discussion with science about their ideas, especially their ID ideas. Behe has stopped publishing, he confessed a couple of weeks ago, despite the fact that he never had any difficulty getting any science paper published. He admits he has no data to support ID, but he refuses to do the research to establish his claims on irreducible complexity.

Dembski has scrupulously avoided any forum with biologists for his entire career (he's now teaching at a seminary in Kentucky).

There is an annual meeting of three biology societies, tagged with the year and "evolution." This is one of the places that ANYONE with a serious idea about biology and evolution takes it to unveil it and get the discussion started. You can check it out at the sites on Evolution 2005 (in Alaska), or Evolution 2004 (in Ft. Collins, Colorado), or any of the previous meetings going back as far as you care to go, and you will discover that NOT ONCE has any ID advocate showed up to offer either a scintilla of evidence in favor of ID or a hypothesis that might uncover design.

15 years we've been waiting. Einstein proposed his great theories in print, in peer-reviewed journals, in 1905. Within 14 years his paper on gravity was partly confirmed by observation of light rays bending around the sun.

If Einstein's science-shattering ideas can go from hypothesis to proven in 14 years, how long should we wait for a hypothesis from ID before we pronounce it crank science, and its adherents as crackpot scientists?

Ed Darrell said...

Mr. Baker, there are indeed people with science credentials who endorse ID. They are fewer than those with equivalent credentials who are in prison or in mental health institutions. Do they have any more credibility? The publication record on ID is the same for both groups I just described.

Ed Darrell said...

While we're at it, it's important to note that Clinton did not perjure himself, and was not in a position to do so. Perjury requires that testimony be offered that is known to be false on a material matter before the court, and that it be offered for the sole intention of misleading the court.

The entire line of questioning upon which Starr's cronies alleged perjury was disallowed by the court as immaterial and irrelevant - nothing from that deposition or the entire line of questioning was allowed into testimony. As a legal matter, Clinton did not perjure himself.

But let us remember what the issue was, too. Starr's people argued that the verb "is" is unfixed in grammar, that it might mean "is" on one occasion, but could just as easily mean "was" or "might be." The judge admonished Starr's team on this attempt to twist the language -- this is what Clinton was referring to when he uttered the famous line, "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is." Clinton argued, and the Republican-appointed judge agreed with Clinton, that "is" means "is."

(The question was along the lines of "is there now a sexual relationship between the president and a member of his immediate staff." Clinton noted that even were the Southern Baptist definition of sex to be disallowed, the woman in question was several months gone from the White House staff, that she was an intern, not a staff member, and that the relationship had ended months before as well. Starr protested that Clinton should have corrected all of their errors.)

The bottom line is that, while we think Clinton should have handled it differently, perjury was not one of his problems.

Of course, that's important only if the truth is important to one.

Tlaloc said...

"One thing that intrigues me about your response, how does a materialist (or maybe I should say secularist) avoid determinism?"

I don't know if you'll come back to read this now Matt but determinism means that given an identical situation you get identical results. However that's not always the case whe you look at quantum mechanics or chaotic systems. I would imagine that from that a hypothetical materialist could avoid determinism as a consequence of their beliefs.

Matt Huisman said...

Would it be fairer to call someone a 'probable-ist'? It still seems like a hardcore materialist is going to be forced into believing that there's no such thing as free will (or choice).