Onward State Newsletter

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One of the comments I often hear from young alums is the lack of time they have to check their social media feeds or to keep up on the news in general. Even some of the most engaging folks I met at Penn State — people that read every State College news source every day during their student years — no longer have time to check even one. Time intensive careers, starting a family, and moving far away can hinder us from keeping up with Alma Mater.

It was with this demographic in mind that we launch the Onward State newsletter today. By signing up, you’ll be able to get an email in your inbox every Sunday that includes the most important 10-15 stories in the Penn State media sphere. Rather than spend the hours every day combing through Twitter and the various news outlets, we’ll pull out all the important news and features from the week and put it into one place.

With MailChimp, we’ll get our first 2,000 subscribers for free. I doubt we’ll exceed this number with the initial push but reaching our threshold by the end of the semester seems like a realistic goal. Onward State already has more than 6,000 subscribers through WordPress, which are mostly residual from when you needed to sign up to comment. A 10,000 sign up goal by the end of the year is something to shoot for.

Here’s the link to sign up: http://onwardstate.com/2016/01/21/sign-up-for-onward-states-weekly-newsletter/

Fixing the Eyewitness Problem

Paul Kix’s riveting feature in the New Yorker today is one of the best things I’ve read in awhile. Far too often in today’s system, it’s easier to score political points by being “tough” on crime than being “smart” on crime, and the collateral damage is unimaginably tragic. I suspect this is one of the unfortunate aftereffects of all the reform in the 1990s to address the violent crime issues of the day.

In a dissenting opinion in 1981, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote that “eyewitness identification evidence is notoriously unreliable.” Dozens of scientific studies support this claim. Nevertheless, eyewitness testimony continues to be used widely, and many criminal cases hinge on it almost exclusively. Since 1989, two hundred and eighty people have been exonerated of sexual-assault charges in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of those wrongful convictions relied, in whole or in part, on a mistaken identification by an eyewitness.

Psychologists have long recognized that human memory is highly fallible. Hugo Münsterberg taught in one of the first American psychology departments, at Harvard. In a 1908 book called “On the Witness Stand,” he argued that, because people could not know when their memories had deceived them, the legal system’s safeguards against lying—oaths, penalties for perjury, and so on—were ineffective. He expected that teachers, doctors, and politicians would all be eager to reform their fields. “The lawyer alone is obdurate,” Münsterberg wrote.

It’s for people like Tim Cole that organizations like the Innocence Project exist and are worth our time.