1170th Ordinary General Meeting

"A scientist vs. the law"

Professor D. Brynn Hibbert
Chair of Analytical Chemistry, University of New South Wales

Wednesday 6 May 2009 at 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney

A largely anecdotal review of the author's work in the courts, including bogus health products, unsuccessful defences of murderers and racehorse trainers, and highly lucrative patent cases.

One example is Ion mobility spectrometry. This is embodied in instruments such as the Ion Scan and is used at airports to detect drugs or explosives at trace levels. The author has given evidence in trials of drug importation in which an Ion Scan has revealed the presence of a drug with subsequent seizure of substantive amounts. In an early trial, during the author's evidence the "invisible hand" defence was coined when the trial judge misheard a question from counsel and caused the following conversation. Judge: "Did you say the hand that touched the cocaine was invisible?". Counsel: "No your honour, I said the cocaine that the hand touched was invisible".

The Ion Mat sold for around $3,000 and apart from claiming to improve your sex life, it cured cancers (various) and ameliorated bad breath. The mattress did this by creating "beneficial negative ions" despite the author's opinion that the electric field was about the same as a toaster and whereas we do not expect our household appliances to make us better, this would not either. The prosecution by the ACCC was a success, but at the end of the trial the principals of the company fled with, it is said, $12 million.

There will be some discussion of statistics (Lies, damned lies and ...), dendrites and fractals, stolen wine, contaminated beer and defunct batteries. This will lead to a reflection on expert opinion and the role of professional societies in maintaining standards of professionalism.

The speaker's presentation can be found here: Bryn Hibbert's Talk (1.3 MB PDF).

Professor Hibbert occupies the Chair of Analytical Chemistry at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He is the second incumbent and arrived in Australia from England in 1987. His research interests are in electroanalytical chemistry and chemometrics and metrology in chemistry, but he also does a sideline in expert opinion, scientific fraud and presenting science to the public. He has published around 200 papers, 6 books and 2 patents. His most recent book Quality Assurance in the Analytical Chemistry Laboratory published by Oxford University Press won the RACI Olle Prize for 2007. He is past Chair of the Analytical Division of the RACI, Secretary of the IUPAC Analytical Division and was co-chair of Interact 2002.

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