Too Odd (Not) to Be True: A Reply to Olsson

In ‘Corroborating Testimony, Probability and Surprise’, Erik J. Olsson ascribes to L. Jonathan Cohen the claims that if two witnesses provide us with the same information, then the less probable the information is, the more confident we may be that the information is true (C), and the stronger the information is corroborated (C*). We question whether Cohen intends anything like claims (C) and (C*). Furthermore, he discusses the concurrence of witness reports within a context of independent witnesses, whereas the witnesses in Olsson’s model are not independent in the standard sense. We argue that there is much more than, in Olsson’s words, ‘a grain of truth’ to claim (C), both on his own characterization as well as on Cohen’s characterization of the witnesses. We present an analysis for independent witnesses in the contexts of decision-making under risk and decision-making under uncertainty and generalize the model for n witnesses. As to claim (C*), Olsson’s argument is contingent on the choice of a particular measure of corroboration and is not robust in the face of alternative measures. Finally, we delimit the set of cases to which Olsson’s model is applicable.
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DOI 10.2307/3541823
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