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The Age of Expert Testimony: Science in the Courtroom - Report of a Workshop
A CALL FOR GREATER TRANSPARENCY
Despite general agreement on the need for more transparency of expert information, including knowledge of all available information that bears on a question, most participants seemed reluctant to move toward formal standards for expert testimony so as not to unduly restrict the process of truth-seeking. On the other hand, a medical researcher said that the growth of specific standards for behavior in other well-specified situations had helped. He said that the field of medical research was better off for having set reasonable rules governing disclosure of conflict of interest, protection of human subjects, authorship, and research integrity, and that similar standards might be useful in the courtroom.
SOME FAILINGS OF EXPERT WITNESSES
A psychologist offered a critique of expert witnesses in his own field of psychology. Among the failings he found were:
The use of psychological tests that had not been validated for the purpose at hand;
Doctrinaire commitment to preconceived ideas;
Forming initial impressions too quickly and failing to change these impressions in the face of new evidence.
“Court-appointed experts,” he concluded, “as well as hired guns, may possess their own biases and foibles.”21
A social scientist added to this comment by saying that the fault may be “much more systemic.” She advocated a broader approach to ethics that takes full account of all the forces affecting the court system. “We can’t limit ethical thinking to the behavior of particular expert witnesses in the courtroom,” she said. “Although that’s a place important to focus on, it should not be the only place.”
The opposing side can play a role in correcting these failures through competent cross-examination.