Expert Scientific Testimony in Courts: The Ideal and Illusion of value-free science

The field of law, as a consumer of scientific knowledge, should be of particular interest to those who study science and argue about the role of values in scientific work. In agencies and legislatures (and in administrative and committee hearings), science is used to produce or support policy decisions; “scientific” conclusions about risk or harm, for example, are there intertwined with political arguments, cultural perceptions, and “value” judgments about the acceptability of evidence. My own interest is in the use of science in litigation, and I am not alone – thousands of legal scholars over the last ten or fifteen years have sustained a debate about the appropriate standard for admissibility of expert scientific testimony in trials. One might even say that the “science wars” have arrived in law, but only a particular version of that debate is identifiable in law and science discourse.

With only slight exaggeration, until the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert decision in 1993, the nature and limits of scientific discovery and practice was not a major issue in law.


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