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Credibility On Demand

You don’t hear the term shill much anymore. It’s one of those words you only expect to hear from your grandparents. It refers to a person who publicly gives credibility to a person or organization, while not disclosing the true nature of their relationship with the person or organization for which they are shilling. While the term shill seems out of date, it meaning remains relevant.

Today we call shills, and their practices, by names such as spammers and astroturfing. Different names, but the same purpose. Shilling, even by another name, is still thriving today.  A shill can now even hire support services to help bolster their shilling. Need a enthusiastic crowd to protest? For a fee, you can hire a crowd to support any cause you like. Just pay for as many protester as want, tell the company what to print on the banners, then you have an instant tribe of credibility on demand.

Of course shilling is about perception not reality. In exchange for the fee, you get the impression of independent outrage against your competitor or in support of your cause. However, the shill does not actually care about your cause. They are a gun for hire, regardless of who else is in the fight. The issues you’re fight for merely determine the scope of their services.

Our legal system is not immune from these credibility on demand organizations. In almost every case where a piece forensic science is given to a jury, they are told the laboratory is “accredited.” To illustrate:

Q:  Are you telling the jury, that the fact lab has received accreditation, that is some type of guarantee of the that jury can trust the results in this case?

A:  Yes

This is a typical exchange in many of impaired driving cases between the attorney (me) and the government’s lab witness. This exchange is usually followed by providing the jury with the additional revelations that:

  • Accreditation is not certification. The private company, after they receive your fee, only accredits that you have the correct procedures in place – not that you follow them; and
  • It is appears nearly impossible lose your accreditation or even be sanctioned. There are crime labs where criminal activity went undetected for years within the laboratory, and they remained accredited.

Let’s take a step back and reflect upon these realities.

You pay for accreditation. Pay for play is also the fundamental requirement for engaging a “credibility on demand”. Accreditation is actually about whether you having the good written policies on the books, not whether you follow them. Isn’t whether you follow the correct policies and procedure just as important having them? However, this half measure does give the impression of credibility. Moreover, If there are serious problems with the lab’s work, then they still remain accredited. There is remarkable similarities between the accreditation services and “credibility for pay” services.

Think of it this way. You decide to go to a restaurant because of the fantastic reviews you read online. However, before you go, you discover all the reviews were paid for by the restaurant. You also discover the service that provided the faux reviews has done this for other restaurants where people have gotten sick from the food. How do you feel about the restaurant now? Isn’t “why would they pay for their credibility” a fair question.

Shouldn’t we ask the same question about crime laboratories when they pay for credibility?