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Judging Science Scientific Knowledge and the Federal Courts

By Peter W. Huber, Kenneth R. Foster
MIT Press 1997 ISBN: 9780262061926

About the Book

In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major decision on scientific evidence, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. Federal judges, the Court ruled, have an important, continuing role as “gatekeepers”— a responsibility to screen testimony proffered as “scientific” rather than admit it uncritically for consideration by the jury. The “overarching subject” of that inquiry, the Court ruled, “is the scientific validity…and thus the evidentiary relevance and reliability…of the principles that underlie a proposed submission.” The Court made clear that the meaning of a key phrase in the Federal Rules of Evidence—“scientific knowledge”—cannot be given intelligent meaning without venturing beyond the standard law library. Citing philosophers of science, briefs filed in the case by Nobel scientists, scientific journals, and the National Academy of Sciences, the Court described when expert testimony that purports to address “scientific knowledge” may be admitted into Federal court.

Judging Science is organized around the criteria set out in that landmark ruling. The book examines issues of fit—whether a plausible theory relates specific facts to the larger factual issues in contention; philosophical concepts such as the falsifiability of scientific claims; scientific error; reliability in science, particularly in fields such as epidemiology and toxicology; the meaning of “scientific validity”; peer review and the problem of boundary setting; and the risks of confusion and prejudice when presenting science to a jury. The book’s conclusion attempts to reconcile the law’s need for workable rules of evidence with the views of scientific validity and reliability that emerge from scientific and other disciplines.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a follow-up to the Daubert ruling in the 1997 Term.

About the Authors

Peter Huber is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where he writes on drug development, energy, technology, and the law. He is the author of The Cure in the Code: How 20th Century Law Is Undermining 21st Century Medicine (2013); The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy (2005), coauthored with Mark P. Mills.

Kenneth R. Foster is a Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania.