Judge at­tacks pro­fes­sor’s ‘flawed and ir­re­spon­si­ble’ ev­i­dence

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

A judge has ac­cused a univer­sity pro­fes­sor of “di­min­ish­ing the im­por­tance of the role of an ex­pert wit­ness” af­ter he al­legedly pla­gia­rised oth­ers’ work in court and made as­ser­tions “with­out any ba­sis in re­search or fact”.

Mu­rat Yü­cel (pic­tured be­low), a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the Brain and Men­tal Health Lab­o­ra­tory at Monash Univer­sity, was called as an ex­pert wit­ness in a con­sumer law case in the Aus­tralian fed­eral court, which cen­tred on whether a casino and a poker ma­chine de­vel­oper had mis­led con­sumers about their chances of win­ning money through the de­sign of one of its ma­chines.

Pro­fes­sor Yü­cel, who spe­cialises in the long-term ef­fects of heavy sub­stance use on the brain and be­hav­iour, pre­pared a re­port and gave oral ev­i­dence on be­half of the claimant, Shon­ica Guy, a for­mer gam­bling ad­dict.

But as part of the judg­ment, pub­lished this month, Jus­tice Deb­bie Mor­timer at­tacked the qual­ity of the ev­i­dence given by Pro­fes­sor Yü­cel, stat­ing that he was a “per­son with­out un­der­stand­ing of the role of an ex­pert wit­ness” and that he “had used and adopted the work of oth­ers with­out at­tri­bu­tion”.

The judge con­cluded that the aca­demic’s opin­ions were “ir­re­triev­ably tainted by his flawed and ir­re­spon­si­ble ap­proach” and said that she had “dis­re­garded them en­tirely”.

In par­tic­u­lar, Jus­tice Mor­timer ac­cused the aca­demic of copy­ing state­ments from Wikipedia with­out at­tri­bu­tion.

“He… lifted state­ments ex­pressed in other jour­nal ar­ti­cles about other kinds of ad­dic­tions and re­placed words so as to make the state­ments read as if they re­lated to gam­bling ad­dic­tion when, in fact, they did not. He did this with­out at­tri­bu­tion of the orig­i­nal source,” she said.

She added that there was “no rigour at all ap­plied to his oral ev­i­dence, and when his pri­mary sources were ex­posed as pro­vid­ing lit­tle if any sup­port for his opin­ions, he was un­able to make ap­pro­pri­ate con­ces­sions, or any con­ces­sions”. Jus­tice Mor­timer ex­pressed par­tic­u­lar con­cern over Pro­fes­sor Yü­cel’s state­ment that he saw his role as an ex­pert wit­ness as pre­sent­ing opin­ions in an “in­for­ma­tion­shar­ing ed­u­ca­tional fo­rum” and did not pro­vide proper ci­ta­tions or at­tri­bu­tions be­cause the re­port was “not an aca­demic pub­li­ca­tion”.

“Over­whelm­ingly, Pro­fes­sor Yü­cel’s at­ti­tude un­der cros­sex­am­i­na­tion when these fail­ings were ex­posed lacked any in­sight into the se­ri­ous­ness of his con­duct, or to the im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at­tach­ing to the giv­ing of ex­pert ev­i­dence in a ju­di­cial set­ting. To the con­trary Pro­fes­sor Yü­cel sought to di­min­ish the im­por­tance of the role of an ex­pert wit­ness, in the ways I have al­ready de­scribed,” she said.

Jus­tice Mor­timer also crit­i­cised an­other aca­demic, Rus­sell Deighton, for be­ing “some­what cau­tious” while giv­ing ev­i­dence and for giv­ing “con­fused, or un­clear, an­swers”.

Dr Deighton, a se­nior lec­turer in psy­chol­ogy and an ex­pert in prob­lem gam­bling at Mel­bourne’s Cairn­mil­lar In­sti­tute, also gave ev­i­dence on be­half of the claimant, who lost the case.

The judg­ment raises wider ques­tions about the train­ing that aca­demics re­ceive on giv­ing ex­pert ev­i­dence in le­gal cases.

Pro­fes­sor Yü­cel told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that he had “an obli­ga­tion to the court and the par­ties in this mat­ter to not make any public com­ments about my ev­i­dence or the case”.

Monash Univer­sity also de­clined to com­ment.

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