Cornelia Dean On Science and Law
Cornelia Dean has a "commentary" in today's NY Times about courts trying to decide issues of science. She draws a hyper-simplistic distinction between the methods of science and law:
The justices may also consider that when scientists confront a problem, they collect all the information they can about it and then draw conclusions.
Lawyers work in reverse. They know their desired outcome at the outset, so they gather arguments to support it. While it would be unethical for scientists reporting on their work to omit findings that don’t fit their hypotheses, lawyers are under no compunction to introduce evidence that hurts their cases; that’s the other side’s job.
You do not have to be a lawyer to know that lawyers begin with learning the facts and then develop a legal theory based on the facts. Dean's simplistic description may apply to litigation attorneys on the verge of a trial, but it is highly inaccurate as a description of most lawyers generally.
You do not have to be a scientist to know that her depiction of them drawing conclusions only after they have gathered all the facts is also simplistic and ignores the fact that scientists are human too. They have their own preconceptions and bias.
Having said this, the article is interesting nonetheless. Many point to Philip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial as a landmark moment for the modern Darwinian skepticism movement. A law professor, Johnson applied legal standards of proof and evidence to macroevolutionary theory, and found that the evidence for it was far weaker than many believed. It explored whether the theory was based primarily on facts, or whether it was primarily dependent on philosophical materialism for its plausibility.
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For links to previous posts about Cornelia Dean articles, check out Cornucopia of Cornelia.