Wikipedia and “Psycho-Hermeneutics” as Tools of Judicial Repression

‘Experts’ Use Wikipedia as Case Evidence
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
October 3, 2012

The defense said it would demand the exclusion of an expert analysis from the case as the hearings of the Trial of the Twelve continued after a two-week pause Tuesday, dismissing the prosecution’s experts as utterly incompetent and unqualified.

The defense exposed large sections of Wikipedia articles copied by the “experts,” complete with hyperlinks and formatting, a lack of specialist education and ungrounded claims in the text of the analysis, which described the secretly recorded videos of meetings of The Other Russia activists as meetings of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP).

If found guilty, the activists could face between two and three years in prison.

Vitaly Batov and Natalya Kryukova, who analyzed the videos for the prosecution, came from Moscow to testify in St. Petersburg’s Vyborgsky District Court, where the case is being heard. Batov was also responsible for the linguistic and sociological analysis that supported the case for prison sentences for the feminist punk band Pussy Riot this summer.

Vitaly Batov, Psycho-Hermeneuticist. Photo by Sergey Chernov

Batov and Kryukova, from the Russian Institute for Cultural Research, found that the slogan “Kill the Slave in Yourself” was a call for violence, while during the recent Pussy Riot trial, Batov found that the group’s “punk prayer” was motivated by “political and religious hatred and enmity.”

The investigators in the Trial of the Twelve turned to Batov and Kryukova, dubbed “call girl experts” by critics, after the original expert analysis conducted by St. Petersburg State University history professor David Raskin concluded that it was impossible to determine from the evidence whether the group in the videos was the NBP or any other similar group.

Kryukova spoke more than Batov, who made occasional remarks.

“I am not interested in the vids,” Batov said, when asked whether he had compared the investigators’ transcription with what was actually heard in the videos, adding, “In this respect I always take my lead from the [person commissioning the analysis].”

In his analysis, Batov said, he used software called Lingvo Express, which he created on an IBM System/3 computer in 1974. The software determines psychological peculiarities and flaws in a person from examples of their speech, he said, adding that it surpasses Western equivalents because, while they require tens of thousands of words to be able to give an accurate result, his own software can do so on the basis of just 200 words.

In addition to the software, Batov used a “psycho-hermeneutic” method that he had also invented, he said, though he admitted that the term had not taken root.

When asked whether his method is used by any other researchers, Batov, who is the author of a book called “Vladimir Vysotsky: The Psycho-Hermeneutics of [His] Work” compared the scientific community to a “zoo.”

“Innovations are only recognized after their rivals die out,” he said.

Batov said he had not undergone professional reevaluation since 1974.

While Batov said he has degrees in psychology and cultural studies, Kryukova is a math teacher.

When asked how she could conduct linguistic, psychological and sociological analysis, she said that she had taken group psychology at university for three terms.

In answer to a question about her qualifications in political studies, Kryukova replied that she had studied the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a compulsory course at university before graduating in 1981.

Asked how the experts were able to confirm that the flag in the black and white video was the NBP’s banned red flag, Kryukova explained that black appears as black in a black and white image, while any other color appears as gray.

“This flag is definitely not black, which means it is red, because these groups use only black and red flags,” she said.

The experts saw a “call to, and a justification of, the ideology and practice of violence” in defendant Andrei Dmitriyev’s words, when he said at a secretly taped meeting that if the activists gained the support of many small organizations, City Hall “will be forced to take us into consideration.”

When asked how his words could be interpreted as a call to violence, Kryukova replied that it contained the “intention to put pressure” on the authorities, which, in the context of the group’s activities, constituted such a call.

The indictment does not contain any charges of violence.

Kryukova initially claimed that she had used various dictionaries for definitions in the expert analysis, but later admitted using Wikipedia, an anonymous online resource to which anyone can contribute.

“So what, is that a crime?” Kryukova said.

“First-year students are told not to use Wikipedia!” defense lawyer Olga Tseitlina said.

Despite the contradictions and inconsistencies of the evidence offered by Kryukova and Batov, Judge Sergei Yakovlev openly helped them by dismissing some of the defense’s questions and sometimes even answering on their behalf when they appeared to have trouble finding the right word.

“The expert analysis is the prosecution’s only evidence and we’ll be demanding it be excluded from the case at the next hearing,” Tseitlina said after the session.

The hearings in the cases of a group of The Other Russia activists opened in St. Petersburg in April. Last month, cases against four of the twelve activists were dismissed on the grounds that two years had passed since they were last detained for participating in a protest.

See Sergey Chernov’s most recent articles on the Trial of the Twelve here, here and here.

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Filed under political repression, Russian society

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