Evaluating Direct and Indirect Evidence

In this course, we also use a heirarchy of evidence when evaluating DIRECT EVIDENCE. 


On their own, videos and photographs are stronger evidence than documentary evidence.  The eyewitness account from a journalist is stronger than the eyewitness account from a citizen.  Look to see if a story has direct evidence.  See where that evidence stands in the hierarchy.  Put conflicting evidence side by side to see which is stronger.  But also always ask…what is this particular piece of evidence actually evidence of?  Video is the strongest form of evidence, but if the video does not show something incriminating, you do not have evidence of incrimination.

What about Arm’s Length Evidence?  The farther away from whatever is at issue, the less strength that evidence has.  For example a Second-Hand account is stronger than a Third Hand account.


But a journalist is not always able to collect direct evidence by their deadline. Here's our hierarchy of indirect evidence (note: the hierarchy of this type of evidence isn't naturally clear, so these are not in any particular order).

  • mh370.jpgAccounts from spokesmen (i.e. lawyer, press secretary, written press release)
    • When hearing accounts of an event from a spokesperson, its important to also look for some sort of direct evidence -- since these are seemingly second hand accounts, that at times can be information that was obtained from yet another source, which then turns it into a third-hand account, making it even more susceptible to mishearing, or "spin". 
  • Expert reconstruction
    • Also keep in mind that in a breaking news situation, television networks may fill time by asking experts to speculate, based on early evidence, as they did in the case of MH370’s disappearance. That was a pretty good demonstration of the potential weakness of reconstruction. 
  • Hearsay testimony (secondhand or worse)
    • In journalism, reporters are often unable to gather all the direct evidence you would want. In this case, you need to pay attention to the type of evidence that is used to support the story. You’re not on a jury, but you might ask yourself if you’d want your reputation changed on the basis of indirect evidence like this.
  • Inferences from evidence
    • Indirect evidence requires you to make inferences and the nature of inference is that there are several possible inferences that can be drawn. In a recent case that claimed that sugary drinks were tied to obesity in children, it was found that a set of largely indirect evidence was used to make the claim.