Borrowed Truths

Transfers of expertise & evidence

across science, justice and politics

© Can Stock Photo / stuartmiles
© Can Stock Photo / stuartmiles

Science, justice and (to some extent) politics share the basic assumption that fact-based truths about reality can be established through evidencing methods. Moreover, these processes are viewed as essential to these fields’ work, as they provide the basis upon which to act. How exactly ‘truth’ is established differs from field to field, and it is these specifics that experts draw their authority from in their interactions with other fields (e.g., rigor/objectivity in science; impartiality/procedures in the justice sector). Within each field, however, ways of knowing and questions of whether and how objective truth can be established are highly contested. 


These disputes notwithstanding, there are high exchange levels of truth-seeking methods, findings and authorities across fields. E.g., the justice system draws on medical, psychology or neuroscience experts to give memory-related evidence in court, and UN Commissions of Inquiry use forensic expertise to reconstruct mass violence. These ‘borrowed truths’ may be problematic in two ways. First, they tend to be given undue weight because of the expert authority associated with them, while doubts and limits of each field’s ways of knowing are glossed over (e.g., neuroscience’s insights into false memory), with sometimes disastrous results (e.g., conviction based on wrong medical witness à see Sally Clark case). Second, since there are usually several experts competing over the truth about a problem, the decisions and judgments arrived at on the basis of ‘borrowed truths’ always carry the shadow of a doubt.


Collaborating closely with justice and policy practitioners, the team analysed practices of ‘borrowing truths’ at the science—justice—politics nexus in order to understand the limitations/distortions beleaguering transfers of expertise, raise awareness about their implications, and explore potential mitigation measures.


The Team

Dr Cheryl Allsop
University of South Wales

Cheryl Allsop obtained her ESRC funded PhD on 'DNA, Detective Work and Cold Case Major Crime Reviews', which focused on how the police seek to solve long term unsolved murders and stranger rapes, from Cardiff University. She also has a degree in Law from Nottingham Trent University, a degree in Psychology from the Open University and a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice Studies from Portsmouth University, which she studied for part time while working full time in a variety of roles for a FTSE 100 financial services organisation. She also has a master’s degree in Social Science Research Methods, socio-legal pathway, from Cardiff University. Cheryl is currently a lecturer and the BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice Award leader at the University of South Wales and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Website Email

Dr Berit Bliesemann de Guevara
Aberystwyth University

Project Coordinator

Berit Bliesemann de Guevara is Senior Lecturer and Director of Graduate Studies (PhDs) at Aberystwyth University’s Department of International Politics. For her PhD thesis about international statebuilding in Bosnia-Herzegovina she received the German Studies Award 2009. Her current research is interested in exploring how policy-makers and conflict experts make sense of violent conflicts and construct policy solutions. Her projects address a range of topics from transnational think tanks, to urban legends of intervention, and to politicians’ on-site visits in zones of conflict. She is Head of an internatioanl research network on 'Knowledge production in conflict' and Co-Investigator of the ESRC seminar series 'From data to knowledge' and the AHRC PaCCS research project 'Raising silent voices'. Email

Dr Nick Davis
Manchester Metropolitan University

Nick Davies is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has a degree (from Sheffield University) and an MSc (from the University of Birmingham) in Cognitive Science, and a PhD (from Birmingham again) in Psychology, focusing on tremor in Parkinson’s disease. His current research involves the use of electrical or magnetic stimulation to change the activity of the brain while the brain is engaged in a task. These technologies can be used to study or to enhance people’s performance. Nick is particularly keen to develop the ethical and societal implications of enhancing cognitive performance in healthy people. More generally, Nick wants to engage the wider public with some of the recent exciting developments in psychology and neuroscience. Website Email

Dr Aimee Grant
Cardiff University

Aimee Grant obtained her undergraduate degree in criminology and social policy from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences. She went on to obtain funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to undertake an MSc in social science research methods and a PhD in social policy. Since obtaining her doctorate, Aimee has undertaken research on a broad range of topics related to health, and has worked for a tobacco control charity and the NHS in a research capacity. She is currently working as a research associate in the Cardiff Clinical Trials Unit at Cardiff University. Her research interests include advancing qualitative methods (including the use of social media), smoking cessation, infant feeding, and the development and evaluation of complex public health interventions. Overall, Aimee’s work aims to reduce health inequalities. Website Email

Dr Catrin Fflur Huws
Aberystwyth University

Catrin Fflur Huws is a Senior Lecturer in law at Aberystwyth University, having also graduated and obtained her doctorate from the same institution. She is currently the Chairperson of the Centre for Welsh Legal Affairs, specialising in bilingual law-making, Wales as an emerging jurisdiction and the legal status of the Welsh Language. Catrin’s research therefore combines law and linguistics. Catrin is also a playwright, and her play To Kill a Machine is currently on a national tour, and will be going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The play focuses on the life and work of Alan Turing, and has also led to research on the law as a Turing-complete machine. Catrin also uses theatrical techniques as a way of conducting research and organised a workshop in 2014 as part of the AHRC’s Being Human Festival on verbatim theatre and tribunals. Website Email

Dr Yvonne McDermott Rees

Bangor University


Yvonne McDermott Rees is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Bangor University, UK, where she is also Director of Teaching and Learning and Co-Director of the Bangor Centre for International Law. She is a graduate of the National University of Ireland, Galway (B. Corp. Law, LL.B.), Leiden University (LL.M. cum laude) and the Irish Centre for Human Rights (PhD). Her research interests include human rights, international criminal law, and criminal procedure. She is the author of Fairness in International Criminal Trials (Oxford University Press, 2016) and her most recent research examines the questions surrounding evidence and fact-finding in international criminal trials. Yvonne is Series Co-Editor of the University of Wales Press series in International Law, and an Academic Fellow of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. Website Email