Background on the First and Second Editions of the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence

In the latter half of the twentieth century, it became increasingly evident that the judiciary would be called on to address unique and complex questions involving scientific and engineering issues. It also became clear that, unlike the executive and legislative branches of government, the judiciary did not have institutions to aid it when wrestling with these concerns.1 The Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government expressed concern about this lack of expert advice. It stated that:

The courts’ ability to handle complex science-rich cases has recently been called into question, with widespread allegations that the judicial system is increasingly unable to manage and adjudicate science and technology (S&T) issues. Critics have objected that judges cannot make appropriate decisions because they lack technical training, that jurors do not comprehend the complexity of the evidence they are supposed to analyze, and that the expert witnesses on whom the system relies are mercenaries whose biased testimony frequently produces erroneous and inconsistent determinations. If these claims go unanswered, or are not dealt with, confidence in the judiciary will be undermined as the public become convinced that the courts as now constituted are incapable of correctly resolving some of the most pressing legal issues of our day. There may be calls to replace the current system with new institutions and procedures that appear to be more suited to the demands of science and technology.2

Recognizing these concerns, in the early 1990s the Judicial Conference of the United States called upon the Federal Judicial Center to undertake a study of how courts handle matters involving scientific and technological issues. These efforts led to the creation of the Science and Technology Resource Center (STRC) at the Federal Judicial Center and the initiation of a systematic approach to the examination of judicial


Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government. 1993. Science and Technology in Judicial Decision Making: Creating Opportunities and Meeting Challenges. New York: Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, p. 6.


Ibid, p. 11.

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