asked to address a question, the group eventually recognizes the value of the strongest evidence and opinions. At that point, even if one or a few members of the group are at extreme ends of the bell-shaped curve of opinion, the custom is for all to join in a “consensus truth.”

In the courtroom, the goal is not a consensus truth but a definitive decision. Although there may be a consensus in the scientific community about a particular question, this consensus is unlikely to appear in the courtroom. Instead, opposing attorneys search out experts from the tails of the bell-shaped curve so as to strengthen their particular arguments.

Even so, some scientific, engineering, and medical experts feel a responsibility to make themselves available to offer courtroom testimony; some of whom go so far as to define a collective responsibility to do so. Their reasoning is that the best way to provide sound evidence for legal questions is to provide the most qualified experts. “If those of you who are honorable, conscientious, and learned don’t show up,” said a judge, “then who do you think will show up?”

Another view presented was that both science and the law are human activities and, in certain respects, social constructs. It is not surprising that members of each group are unfamiliar with the culture and “professional myths” of the other. Participating in resolving legal disputes is one way for the two cultures to “untangle those myths” and learn to communicate better.

In discussing ways to encourage the scientific community to improve expert testimony, participants discussed a role for professional societies and for programs of the AAAS and the National Academies. Some societies have, or are considering, codes of practice for this purpose. Other participants doubted that professional societies would have enough courtroom expertise to be helpful and might even, particularly for licensed professions, find difficulty in resolving definitions and issues of practice.


In its Daubert opinion, the Court repeatedly uses the term “scientific method,” a concept discussed at length during the workshop. In general, the participants disliked the idea of a too-exact definition in regard to science. As one participant said, “There is no definition of ‘scientificity’.”

As suggested previously, the hypotheses and knowledge of science are always evolving, and this includes the science that underlies scientific evidence. An hypothesis can be falsified or disproved, but it cannot be labeled “permanently true,” because the knowledge on which it is based is always incomplete. An hypothesis that is tested and found “not to be false” is considered to be corroborated but not proved.

Indeed, the work of science is to test hypotheses. This process may

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement