Validity of Simulations – How far can we go?

By Marc Resnick
Now here is a very interesting case.  There is one family of a 9/11 victim that is still suing the government.  This is the family of a passenger in one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center.  The dispute that I want to talk about today is that the family has put a very large monetary value on the terror that this person must have felt in the few minutes after he realized that the plane was going to be flown into the Towers.  The jury needs to decide how long he would have known this, how much fear that would have created, and how much compensation this is worth.  In order to do that, the family asked the judge to allow them to create a simulation of those last few minutes to show the jury and let them experience it personally.  The judge agreed.
Can a simulation like this work?  In a lot of IE practice and research we try to create ecologically valid scenarios to test system designs, user interfaces, process load management etc. all the time.  Sometimes it is important to understand the users’ emotion, like frustration or hurriedness because it could impact their behavior going through the process (I will blog about these details later – you’ll just have to trust me today).  But this legal case takes it up a whole order of magnitude.  I am not sure if the typical juror could really watch a simulation of a plane crashing into a building and imagine what the passenger felt like, let alone put a dollar value on it.
What do you think?