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Using Scientists As Courtroom Witnesses: System Needs Improvement

Scientific issues now permeate a multitude of legal matters--the presentation of criminal evidence, cases involving intellectual property, environmental disputes, and so on. And, by all accounts, the courts are handling this surge of scientific adjudication poorly: Mishandling of scientific matters in court has been blamed for outrageous tort awards, improper criminal convictions, and even the erosion of the United States' competitiveness. In my view, the legal system's inability to properly

Dan Burk
Scientific issues now permeate a multitude of legal matters--the presentation of criminal evidence, cases involving intellectual property, environmental disputes, and so on. And, by all accounts, the courts are handling this surge of scientific adjudication poorly: Mishandling of scientific matters in court has been blamed for outrageous tort awards, improper criminal convictions, and even the erosion of the United States' competitiveness.

In my view, the legal system's inability to properly manage scientific disputes stems in part from the problem of competition within the legal field--and the presence of scientists who, in this adversarial environment, trade the values of science for those of law.

Lawyers, who dwell--and properly so--in an adversarial realm, are governed by written rules of professional conduct that require them to show loyalty to their clients, protect their clients' interests, and act as zealous advocates on their clients' behalf. These rules are suited to their profession. Scientists, on...

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