Good science often involves the withholding of judgment until more evidence has accumulated.
The law requires that decisions be reached upon the conclusion of trials regardless of gaps in the available evidence.
Often in modern litigation, the law must be informed by scientific evidence as communicated by the views of the scientists who present it.
These are typically experts chosen and paid by parties because, regardless of the law’s needs, scientists, with rare exceptions, cannot be forced to contribute what they know.
Medical testimony is still the most common form of scientific expertise presented in court, but expert advice on legal matters has expanded exponentially, reflecting the enormous range of scientific knowledge that modern scholarship has produced.
Although recognizing the need for scientific assistance, judges soon learned that sources claiming scientific expertise did not always agree.In their introduction to the issue, Shari Seidman Diamond and Richard O.Lempert discuss the tensions and areas of overlapping interest at the interface of science and the legal system.The third essay provides a perspective from the other side of the law-science divide.It presents the first published survey results from a sample of distinguished scientific and engineering experts who were asked about their views of the legal system and about their participation in it (or not).By the third trial in 1783, prestigious engineering experts testified on both sides and were subjected to vigorous cross-examination.The disagreement, in retrospect, was understandable: more than two hundred years later, science still cannot provide a definitive answer to the question posed in that litigation.The essays in the first section examine the science-law interface by focusing attention on two sets of key players: the judges who determine what scientific evidence will be considered by the legal system, and the scientists and engineers with the expertise to provide that assistance.The authors of the first two essays have closely studied the history, discourse, and decision-making of U. courts when they are called on to deal with scientific evidence as gatekeepers and decision makers.Judges and juries, lacking the scientific knowledge of experts, both face difficult challenges in understanding and applying expert scientific testimony.Not surprisingly, they occasionally get the science they are supposed to evaluate wrong, and what the legal system has accepted as sound science has not always withstood the test of time.