# What’s The Probability That…..?

I sometimes like to start a post with word definitions. It helps to place me and any reader at the same point of understanding. Google defines probability as (https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=probability+definition) ‘the extent to which something is probable; the likelihood of something happening or being the case’. Here is what the Math is Fun website (www.mathisfun.com/definitions/probability.html) says ‘Probability is the chance that something will happen – how likely it is that some event will happen. It goes on to say ‘Sometimes you can measure a probability with a number like “10% chance of rain”, or you can use words such as impossible, unlikely, possible, even chance, likely and certain.’ Those are words that invade our speech daily. Google then defines statistics as (https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=statistics+definition): ‘Statistics then is the practice or science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities especially for the purpose of inferring proportions in a whole from those in a representative sample’.

As part of my coursework in Human Resources Management at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I was required to take courses in probability and statistics. Those dreaded courses were oddly interesting. There are statistical methods to be followed in collecting data and analyzing it to make those calculations and determine probabilities. What is the researcher trying to predict? The data must be relevant and worthwhile; otherwise your predictions may not be very useful. There are standard deviations and errors to be calculated. The statistics and probabilities could be illustrated on a bell curve or graphs or other diagramming devices for those of us who prefer a picture with those numbers. Anyway, the point is that someone with a large enough data sample can make predictions. Why did I start thinking about probabilities?

A few weeks ago my brother and I had a conversation about serious illnesses and those statistical rates of survival given by medical professionals. Sometimes those rates are not in our favor, but his point was: No matter how low that number might be, there is every reason to believe that any one of us could be one of that select group of survivors. He told me a friend had a ruptured aorta, a medical event with a 5% survival rate. The friend survived. We might call that a miracle or say he was lucky or he beat the odds. We believe in the lucky and unlucky. Every day many of us plop down our dollars to buy lottery tickets. More and more of us buy tickets when that Powerball jackpot grows to a figure that might take us weeks to count. We buy tickets despite knowing that our chances of winning are astronomical; eventually someone does win though. Maybe we will be the lucky one next time.

What was the probability that Jacob, who had never been in trouble and never had accusations aimed at him in previous employment caring for young people, would suddenly be accused and arrested on sexual abuse charges? I would have said there was a low probability of that event, yet that is what happened. How could I calculate an accurate probability for such an event? Where would I find my sample pool to collect data? What was the probability then that my son would be convicted of these charges solely on testimony of this accuser with no supporting forensics or evidence? Again, I would say low probability; yet that is exactly what happened to Jacob. Here I might collect data from other cases where the accused was convicted solely on testimony? Would the sample pool be large enough to make predictions?

How did Jacob reach this point? Here is where I will eventually return in my posts to my explanation of randomness and happenstance. The ex-family would say it was because he was guilty. Their actions appear to support a belief in 100% probability of his guilt– absolute certainty. There is no room for error. Why do I say this? I make this statement because not one person in Jacob’s ex-family– not his ex-wife or the accuser’s mother or any other person in their sphere ever confronted Jacob. Theoretically, not one person had a single question to ask Jacob in the almost week between that first disclosure and Jacob’s arrest. I had a million (exaggeration) questions that I wanted to ask of members of this family and others connected to them as I dwelled on all the things that had happened in the weeks preceding the arrest and going back through all the years of Jacob’s relationship with his ex-wife. Instead, I write my questions and thoughts to freeze them in time. Questions are never-ending. I hypothesize that the ex-family wanted to believe these accusations because they wanted to punish him for every perceived wrong committed by him. He was the outsider in this group; the person to single out for whatever blame needed to be levied. I empathized with him in that feeling that he did not belong. At this time of year, I think of the last Christmas he spent with this family. He asked Roy and me to come to his brother-in-law’s house to celebrate, and I felt a sadness for him that Roy refused. My mother-in-law predicted from the beginning of the engagement that Jacob’s in-law family would always take precedent over his own. Were we really even invited? We were seldom invited to events by the actual host/hostess. We went for Thanksgiving dinner one year to Jacob’s mother-in-law’s (just his girlfriend’s mother at that time) house. We were invited by his girlfriend and not by her mother personally. Still, we were expected to dinner. On another occasion, Jacob’s brother-in-law’s mother-in-law (I know this can be confusing the way I write without actual names.) was having a picnic on the weekend before Jacob’s wedding. Again, this woman did not invite us herself; our invitation came from either Jacob or his fiancée. When I called this woman to inquire what I might bring, there was that almost imperceptible pause and moment of confusion at my call. I always wondered whether she had actually meant to invite us; I never shared those feelings with Roy. His statement would have been as always, “I don’t go where I’m not wanted.” He was angry with me when I went to my ex-daughter-in-law’s birthday celebration in Lawrenceville the month before the arrest: I told him I went for Jacob. I believe now that my intuition was telling me that Jacob needed us by his side, and we fell down on the job. I saw him always as the outsider, the outcast, the interloper of this family. I felt it somewhere deep inside. His ex-brother-in-law’s speech at the rehearsal dinner had that underlying message. His ex-father-in-law’s attitude to Jacob seemed to be simply tolerance. This family wanted to believe these accusations because to believe such things is a vindication of others.

Jacob is not guilty of these accusations. I believe that to be so. Do I proclaim a 100% probability of innocence? That would be a foolish statement to make. There are, I think, only two people in this case who can claim 100% probability of guilt or innocence, Jacob and his accuser. I say I believe there are two who can claim 100%, but I have questions about memory. It is so difficult for me to believe that our memories can betray us so completely though. Yet I remember my stepson telling stories of things that happened when he was young, while my husband sat shaking his head in denial as my stepson related the memories. Whose recollections of the past were right? Oliver Sacks wrote in his book, SPEAK, MEMORY of his own false childhood memory. How does this educated man, a doctor, not recognize his own false memory? Those questions of memory as well as the accuser’s own testimony and statements plead the question, “Would a forensic exam of an accuser be warranted in a case where the case hinged on that person’s testimony?” Jacob’s attorney asked the police officer that question during his testimony. The answer: The accuser was too old; the cutoff age was either 13 or 14. Does this decision really rest on a number like age and not individual assessment? Of course the decision may come down to other reasons like the desire to believe the accuser or the cost of forensic exams. I ask this question not knowing whether this exam would have been helpful to Jacob’s case. I ask questions, because I believe every tool should be employed when we are making decisions about people’s lives and future.