In Nature, neuroscientist Mo Costandi has a nice profile (the title of which I have stolen for my own subheading here) of UC Irvine psychologist and law prof Elizabeth Loftus., whose work as both a scholar and an expert witness has focused on the frailties of human memory and the phenomenon of false memories.
From Mo's article:
In a career spanning four decades, Loftus...has done more than any other researcher to document the unreliability of memory in experimental settings. And she has used what she has learned to testify as an expert witness in hundreds of criminal cases...[,] informing juries that memories are pliable and that eyewitness accounts are far from perfect recordings of actual events.
Her work has earned her plaudits from her peers, but it has also made her enemies. Critics charge that in her zeal to challenge the veracity of memory, Loftus has harmed victims and aided murderers and rapists. She has been sued and assaulted, and has even received death threats. “I went to a shooting range to learn how to shoot,” she says, noting that she keeps a few used targets in her office as a point of pride.
The Not-So-Tragic Tragedy of the Commons
"Undercover Economist" Tim Harford has an interesting back story, of sorts, on Garrett Hardin's famous Tragedy of the Commons and the push-back to that theory from political scientist/development economist Elinor "Lin" Ostrom. Among Harford's interesting observations is that Hardin and Ostrom were very different kinds of academics: they had different goals (Hardin, Harford says, "wanted to change the world; Ostrom merely wanted to describe it") and different methods (top-down principles-driven analysis and bottom-up case-driven analysis, respectively).
From Harford's article:
Hardin’s analysis looks prescient when applied to our habit of pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or overfishing the oceans. But the existence of clear counter-examples should make us hesitate before accepting Hardin’s argument that tragedy is unstoppable. Lin Ostrom knew that there was nothing inevitable about the self-destruction of “common pool resources”, as economists call them. The tragedy of the commons wasn’t a tragedy at all. It was a problem – and problems have solutions.
If Garrett Hardin and Lin Ostrom had reached different conclusions about the commons, perhaps that was because their entire approaches to academic research were different. Hardin wanted to change the world; Ostrom merely wanted to describe it.
That goal of description, though, was a vast project. . . . By their very nature, [common pool resources] are messy to describe and hard to compare with each other. Unfortunately for any tidy-minded social scientist, they are also everywhere.
Complicating the problem further was the narrow focus of academic specialities. ...[T]they were divided by discipline, by region and by subject: the sociologists didn’t talk to the economists; the India specialists didn’t talk to the Africanists; and the fishery experts didn’t know anything about forestry. As Ostrom and her colleagues at the University of Indiana looked into the problem they discovered more than a thousand separate case studies, each sitting in isolation.