Katie Wells was born in 1981 with serious birth defects. Her parents attributed them to a contraceptive jelly and sued the maker, Ortho Pharmaceutical Judge Marvin Shoob of the U.S. District Court in Georgia ruled they had proved their case and assessed $5 million in damages against Ortho. The Court of Appeals declined to overturn the judgment and last month the Supreme Court refused to intervene. What is wrong with that?

First, the facts. Scientific experts often differ and the courts generally decide, with some skill, which to believe. But with spermicides like Ortho's there is no serious difference among experts. After reviewing some 20 epidemiological studies, an expert committee advised the Food and Drug Administration in 1983 that the preponderance of available evidence "indicates no association" between spermicides and birth defects.

How then could Judge Shoob have ruled otherwise? Despite the written evidence of the scientific literature, he focused...

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