The RDA Blog of Steve Cole

Steve Cole

According to my high school yearbook, I was going to be an MD. But by the time I finished pre-medicine and a major in psychology at the University of Virginia, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So, after I graduated, I worked in a hospital doing diagnostic cardiology and neurology during the day, and got an MA in developmental psychology at Columbia University at night. I then knew I wanted to be a research scientist in order to explore the relations between mind and body. And Emory University’s doctoral program in human experimental psychology provided that training.

At Emory, I focused on research design and statistics, and perception and memory. As a graduate student, I began applying that expertise to issues in medicine, law and other social sciences such as the reliability of eyewitness identification and statistical models for prediction of survival of horses with colic. Yet there was a bonus to earning a Ph.D. at Emory: I met another research psychologist and we founded RDA in 1982. Nearly 30 years later, we and our associates continue to provide research expertise to business, legal, medical, and other social scientific communities. In 1994, I moved to small horse farm and opened our New York office. I have remained active in Emory’s research community and currently am Adjunct Professor of Psychology. I continue to explore mind-body issues and have just begun an NIH-funded 5-year study of the effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, immune, and behavioral responses to psychological stress. For my own mind and body, I work an organic garden, ride an Icelandic horse, drive a 1959 Ford tractor, and care for 13 alpacas.

RAC Attacks: The Current Landscape of Medicare Audits

Improper payments for health care are estimated to range between 3% and 10% of total health care expenditures nationally. The Medicare program has introduced “recovery audit contracting” (RAC) as a way of assuring that proper payments are being made for services, identifying fraud and abuse. The goal is to reduce fraud during 2009 to 2012 by 50%. With intense pressure to investigate fraud and audit contractors incentivized with contingency fees to find improper overpayments, the audit system itself is ripe for error and abuse.

Read more …

1.10.2012
0

Police Lineups Under Scrutiny

In my last blog I wrote about the New Jersey Supreme Court landmark decision that requires significant changes in the way courts evaluate identification evidence at trial and how they instruct juries. Eyewitness identification issues again have been headline news: Eyewitness testimony was the key evidence used to convict Troy Davis who was executed in Atlanta last night. There was no physical evidence linking Mr. Davis to the 1989 killing of a police officer in Savannah, Ga. Seven of nine witnesses against Mr. Davis recanted after trial. Six of the witnesses said the police threatened them if they did not identify Mr. Davis. The new rules mandated by the NJ Supreme Court for conducting identification procedures, however, should go a long way in reducing the pressures and influences on witnesses that may contribute to mistaken identifications.

Read more …

9.22.2011
0

Landmark Court Decision Mandates Changes in Eyewitness Identification Procedures

In August, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that requires significant changes in the way courts evaluate eyewitness identification evidence at trial and how they instruct juries. The court acknowledged a "troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications" based on an exhaustive review of the scientific research conducted since the 1970s.

Read more …

9.12.2011
0

Redistricting Battles Under Way

Research Design Associates statistical experts have been working with the the U.S. Department of Justice and voting rights organizations since the late 1980s to assess redistricting plans and voting practices for possible unlawful violations. New voting districts are drawn once a decade, after each census, to make sure that all congressional districts have roughly the same number of people and jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination are required to pre-clear new plans with the U.S. DOJ. After the 2000 census, RDA experts testified about redistricting issues in federal courts in Georgia, Montana, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Read more …

6.5.2011
0

The Statistics of Redistricting

Now that the U.S. Census Bureau has tallied the 2010 population figures, the redistricting process has begun in earnest. The redistricting stakes are huge. Redistricting battles are occurring all across the U.S. Eighteen states are either adding or losing Congressional seats. The big winners are Texas which gained four seats and Florida which gained two. New York and Ohio are the big losers, each losing two seats. There is much pressure on state officials who recarve the electoral maps: to try to keep their grip on power or pry it away from opponents while taking into account pressure from those who want to lessen the impact of partisan politics.

Read more …

5.29.2011
2

Why Do So Many Eyewitnesses Get It Wrong?

Over 260 people have been exonerated through DNA testing in the U.S. More than 75% of these innocent people had one or more eyewitnesses misidentify them. In about 40% of these misidentified cases, multiple eyewitnesses identified the same innocent person. How can so many eyewitnesses be wrong? Many of these misidentifications could have been prevented and many wrongful convictions averted if police had used more reliable lineup procedures. Detecting problems with a lineup, that is, assessing the fairness of the lineup, can easily be done by the police before a witness views the lineup. But by using the proper precautions and testing lineups for fairness, we can decrease the likelihood of misidentifications.

Read more …

3.28.2011
0

From the Lab to the Courthouse

As a psychology graduate student at Emory University in the late 1970s, I was looking for a way to apply what scientists knew about perception and memory in the laboratory to the real world. I designed a series of experiments that varied lineup size and the similarity of the decoys in the lineups to the suspect. After briefly viewing a video of a person cashing a check, subjects tried to identify that person in a lineup one week later. Based on the results of these experiments, I devised guidelines for lineups that maximized correct identifications and minimized false identifications. But I also was surprised by a counter-intuitive finding: there was no relationship between the level of confidence of the subjects and the accuracy of their identifications.

Read more …

3.21.2011
0

Monks, Meditation & Science: Can Compassion Promote Health?

At the turn of the century, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama challenged researchers to scientifically study contemplative traditions. More specifically, the Tibetan Buddhist leader called for Western scientists to examine the impact of compassion meditation on health. Since that challenge, Emory University has become a leading center for the scientific study of meditation, Tibetan medicine, philosophy, and religion in the West. I am part of an Emory multidisciplinary research team that has been studying the mechanisms of compassion meditation and its effects on health. As research psychologist, my role on the team during the past 5 years has been to provide research design and statistical analysis expertise. Most studies examining the effects of meditation on health have focused on practices that emphasize calming of the mind such as transcendental (TM) and mindfulness-based stress reduction. We wondered if adding compassion meditation to these practices would enhance the modulation of physiological stress responses. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Ph.D., a former Tibetan Buddhist monk, now Senior Lecturer in Emory's Department of Religion, designed and teaches our compassion meditation program. While mindfulness-based practices emphasize non-judgmental approaches to thoughts and emotions, our secular Tibetan Buddhist mind-training program was designed to challenge one's thoughts and emotions toward other people with the long-term goal of developing altruistic emotions and behavior towards all people.

Read more …

1.19.2011
0

Meditation Research Conference With Dalai Lama

In October 2010 at Emory University, researchers from around the country presented their meditation research findings to His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. At the turn of the century, the Tibetan Buddhist leader called for Western scientists to examine the impact of compassion meditation on health and this conference provided an opportunity for researchers and the Dalai Lama to discuss recent discoveries. My Emory research team has previously demonstrated that compassion meditation can reduce stress and inflammation, which are linked to serious illness including depression, cancer, and heart disease. At this conference, we reported the results of a study conducted this past summer that investigated the effects of meditation on the health of adolescents in foster care.

Read more …

12.26.2010
0