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The Age of Expert Testimony: Science in the Courtroom - Report of a Workshop
witnesses and the admissibility of scientific evidence. The Court largely adopted the argument of the brief that scientific evidence should be evalu-ated by the standards of the scientific community. Justice Blackmun noted that “there are no certainties in science” and quoted the AAAS/NAS amici brief : “Science is not an encyclopedic body of knowledge about the universe. Instead, it represents a process for proposing and refining theo-retical explanations about the world that are subject to further testing and refinement.”6
One of the outcomes of Daubert (pronounced Dow-bert) is that judges have considerable responsibility in understanding and acting on questions of scientific complexity that may have their roots in such fields as epidemiology, toxicology, and molecular genetics. To fulfill this responsibility, judges—at least federal trial judges—are asked to serve a “gatekeeping” role in deciding whether the expert testimony is sufficiently reliable to be presented at trial. In doing so, judges, few of whom have technical training, are asked to exercise a degree of expertise themselves in grappling with cause-and-effect issues on which scientific experts themselves may disagree. Of equal concern are the differences in language and culture between science and law that are heightened in the courtroom.
In order to survey the difficulties produced by this considerable responsibility, the Science, Technology, and Law Program of the National Academies invited individuals from the legal, scientific, and engineering communities, most of whom had considerable experience with expert testimony, to a day-long workshop to seek a full range of opinions. The workshop was not intended to seek a consensus. Instead it sought to air differences and explore emerging problems. In order to achieve this purpose, the National Academies invited experts representing a broad spectrum of opinion as to what level of scientific validation should be required to be admitted as evidence in civil cases.
The following summary attempts to capture the main points of the day’s discussion. While such a brief summary necessarily omits much, its purpose is to illuminate the main features of the landscape in which scientists and lawyers find themselves in light of Daubert and the challenge of identifying objective and unbiased scientific experts for court-appointed roles. Among those features are the nature of expert evidence, the rules of evidence as applied to science, the scientific method and its application in law, and the many difficulties in reaching conclusions about causation when experts disagree.
Brief for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences as Amici-Curiae 7-8.