The scientist met the lawyers
LCORN at CRS.LOC.GOV
Fri Nov 21 16:33:02 CST 1997
I want to thank subscribers to taxacom for your responses to my request =
*Scientists in Court?* I had replies from 20 different people in 4 =
countries. Most of the responses were private. They were helpful, and by =
way of thanks, I wanted to tell you what happened when I met with the =
lawyers who had invited me.
My hosts were litigators at the U.S. Justice Department here in Washington.=
All had argued cases, and represented a broad range of law on natural =
resource issues from hazardous wastes to National Park management to ocean =
fisheries to drafting legislation to mining law. There were about 12 =
people there. I was not the only scientist--one of the lawyers had a =
degree (B.Sc.? M.Sc.?) in oceanography.
I did not want to lecture to this crowd, so I brought only one topic to =
present, and then more topics to raise and elicit their responses. The =
topic I chose was the scientific method, with an illustration of the =
observation that people with pets have lower rates of cardiovascular =
disease. I walked them through developing 4 hypotheses to explain this =
observation, predictions that would flow from each of the 4, falsification =
of 3, and support for a 4th. I then noted that the 4th one wasn*t =
proved--only that it wasn*t disproved. And then (drum roll here) I noted =
that any scientist would support the 4th hypothesis only so long as a 5th =
one did not come along that more economically explained all of the =
My purpose in doing this was to state very, very explicitly what, to this =
list, is obvious: that all hypotheses are provisional, until a better one =
comes along. If this is drilled into you, and you go to a witness stand =
having promised to *tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the =
truth*, you will naturally use the words *usually,* *most of the time*, =
and *on the other hand* quite frequently. They are, to scientists, like =
conditioned reflexes. Interestingly, at this point several lawyerly heads =
were nodding knowingly.
The short presentation (10-12 min) really got the discussion going. The =
division chief was very interested the question of defining terms like =
*viability* (of a population or species) in law and in science. Should =
scientists define this term and then hand it to lawyers? Should lawyers =
rework it to suit legal needs? Should lawyers tell scientists what they =
need in definitions, and let the scientists just have at it? Needless to =
say, we came to no real resolution on this question. If any of you have =
thoughts on how to define terms to the mutual satisfaction of lawyers and =
scientists, be sure to let me know.
We also considered some of the ideas many of you were kind enough to =
share. I noted that several of you had said that you wished the lawyers =
had explained the legal issues more clearly (or at all) so as to allow you =
to focus your remarks. Some of you wished for more opportunities to tell =
the lawyers on your own side how full of sawdust the opposing side*s =
scientists were. And very many of you felt that you could have been more =
helpful if you had had generally more information.=20
There may be 2 consequences of this bag lunch. I may be asked to help =
them find some academic scientists who might meet with them for more =
discussion. Second, they may gather some scientists together who have =
been witnesses for them in the past and ask them to comment on how they =
(the scientists) might have done better, or been more useful in their =
courtroom appearances. They might divide this group up into federal =
employees versus non-federal employees.
It was a very, very stimulating lunch-as evidenced by the fact that I =
didn*t have time to eat mine. I would be happy to go back to talk with =
them, or be a fly on the wall to watch any of their future conversations.
Thank you again, all of you taxacoms. It was very helpful. I may have =
more to report on this or future meetings.
Congressional Research Service
Library of Congress
P.S. I especially wanted to know what happened to the woman who was =
torturing the (vertebrate or insect) prawns after the case got dismissed-we=
re prawns still being served?
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