How Do We Determine Credibility?

Professor Christine Blasey Ford testifying before congress. Image capture by TNB.

The debate about the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and the resulting accusations of wrongdoing by Kavanaugh from a number of women, have brought up a number of questions. One of the big ones concerns the concept of what makes an accusation credible. How can a story only presented for the first time after 36 years and with no corroborating evidence or witnesses be considered credible? Many people are have a tough time grasping it. And that is understandable. When that talking point is first presented, many people have no problem seeing it as a great point.

In one discussion, I was told that if we take Ford’s accusation seriously and deny Kavanaugh the appointment to the Supreme Court, then this will set a precedence and it will be played out every time by the Democrats. Just find someone willing to make an accusation, and “Voila!”, the nominee is disqualified. In fact, many of the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee are making this very argument. The person I was having the discussion with then said, “Ok, when I was 15 years old, Senator Dianne Feinstein sexually assaulted me, so she should be removed from the Senate and her reputation should be ruined, right?”

That’s nonsense.

Well, then, how do we determine which accusations are credible and which ones are not?

First, credibility does not mean that it happened. It only means that there is enough to the story that warrants further investigation. In determining that, we use reason and logic…also known as critical thinking. One of the biggest problems we face today is the lack of critical thinking, on both sides of the political spectrum. It has been replaced by relying on political pundits telling their followers what to think.

So, in order to determine whether a story is credible, we can use the three P’s: possibility, plausibility, and probability.

Possibility

The first step is analyzing the story to see if it is even possible. For example, if I say that when I was in high school in 1982 in a certain city, a certain boy named John Doe, who was a senior at my high school, sexually assaulted me while at a party in July of that year, we can do some initial research to see if it is even possible. Was I at that particular school in 1982 in that particular city? Was there a boy named John Doe that was a senior there in 1982? If both answers are “yes”, then it meets the first step in that it is possible. However, other things can be learned to take it out of the realm of possibility. Maybe John Doe can prove that he was on summer vacation in another country for the entire summer (June through August) in the Summer of 1982.

This is where many of the arguments get in trouble. With the person I was in the discussion with, it is very unlikely that he could show any connection to or can show any logical interactions with Senator Dianne Feinstein when he was 15. The story would fall apart on it’s face for those reasons. It could quickly be taken out of the realm of possibility and it would end there as being not credible. This would be the case with the vast majority of such false accusations, and the accuser would immediately be shown as a liar and be open to being sued for defamation or even lying under oath.

In the case of the Ford accusation, the story clearly meets the criteria of possibility. It is indisputable that they were both in the area at the time alleged and very likely that their social circles interacted.

So then we move to the next step in the analysis.

Plausibility

This step requires looking at a number of the details in the story and determining not only are they possible, but are they plausible. So, when Ford claims that the boys had been drinking and were very drunk, is that in character with those boys at that time? If there is no evidence that they ever drank at all and never attended any parties, then the story of them being very drunk becomes less plausible. However, if they are well-known to be frequent and heavy drinkers, that gives plausibility to that part of the story. When we have an actual book that was written by one of the boys describing how drunk he used to get in those days even to the point of frequent blackouts, it gives plausibility that he may have been involved in something that he doesn’t even remember. This may very well be the reason that Kavanaugh so pointedly attempted to dispel the idea that he was a heavy drinker.

Also, when you have entries in yearbooks that reference things like the “Devil’s Triangle” (which was known to be a sexual threesome with 2 boys and a girl), then it gives a bit of plausibility to a story about 2 boys trying to have sex with a girl. Which is why Kavanaugh might have been trying to pass it off as just a drinking game.

Then, when you also have entries in a yearbook bragging about having had sex with a certain girl, it gives plausibility to the fact that your respect for girls is lacking. Which is why Kavanaugh was trying to claim that it was merely an entry of all of the boys on the football team, including him, showing their respect for the friendship of the girl. Yeah, ok, then…sure.

All of these things go to the plausibility of the overall story. In the case of Ford’s accusation, I believe it meets the level of plausibility.

At this point, finding that a story is possible AND plausible, we have pretty much determined it to be credible. Again, though, just because it is credible, it does not mean that it is true and accurate. It only means that it is credible and serious enough to require further investigation in order to attempt to discern more information for a final judgement.

That takes us to the next step.

Probability

This is the step where we decide the level of probability that the alleged event occurred. Once we determine that a story is possible and plausible, then we need to increase the investigation to see if more information can be found that will enable us to make a judgement on the probability. In Ford’s accusation, at this point we just don’t have enough information to make a fair judgement on that. However, through an investigation, can we determine whether the party did happen, who was there, what was the location, what was the date, and other such information? Can we then look at the layout of the house and see if it matches Ford’s description?

It’s very possible that we won’t be able to gather any of that additional information due to so much time passing and memories fading. If that’s the case, we’ll just have to accept that and be content knowing that we did everything we could to thoroughly investigate the claim and take it seriously. In the end, there would not be enough information to determine that it was probable that he did it. If, on the other hand, we were able to piece these things together and find out that the party did happen and it matches her description of things, I think we’d have to weigh the probability in her favor.

Conclusion

Stories such as Ford’s are a great challenge. How we handle them has very real and lasting consequences. Is it possible that a man’s reputation can be forever tarnished with false accusations? Of course, and that is extremely unfortunately if we get it wrong. But we have to weigh that against the very possibility that he is guilty of the accusation and how that has affected (and will continue to affect) the girl. The situation is not that different from our legal justice system in that it is very possible (and it does happen) that innocent people are sent to prison. Is that fair? Of course not. But we can’t just quit investigating and prosecuting reported crimes and possible reported suspects because of that possibility.

There are no perfect answers to this problem. The best we can do is use our reasoning skills, which are unique to us as humans, to do the best we can in finding fairness and justice for all concerned. In this case, it’s not just the man and the woman, but the entire Republic has a stake in it, which, of course, brings many more complications into it, such as politics.

In the end, however, if a woman (or anyone) comes forward with such an accusation that we can easily determine through quick reason and logic that it is both possible and plausible, then we MUST deem it to be credible. And if it is deemed credible, than we MUST do everything we can to determine all of the facts possible. It’s not perfect, but there are no better alternatives.

It really is that simple.

About the opinions in this article…

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About Steve Wood 240 Articles
I am a husband, a father, a small business owner, a veteran, and a Citizen of the United States. As my avatar depicts, I believe The People need to relearn and focus on the basic principles that our Republic was built upon. My contributions here will be geared toward that end. Please join me in rational, civil discourse.