Faculty Publications
 

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2003

Abstract

It has been a decade since the Supreme Court made judges the arbiters of scientific validity through Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Although this decision was intended to improve how courts use science, recent empirical evidence reveals that judges continue to struggle with scientific evidence and that Daubert has failed to yield accurate or consistent decisions. This also means that judges have received little useful guidance from ten years of academic literature expounding on the science-law chasm.

If the academic discourse is not helpful, it may be because non-scientists too often try to tame science by treating it as a single discipline, which strips away context and meaning. This article takes a different approach. It explores the admissibility of complex medical evidence offered to defeat allegations of child abuse. These cases offer a useful theoretical model of the interaction of science and law because the fact that children can only be injured by accident or abuse limits confounding factors, such as numerous potentially valid diagnoses and the unpredictable influence of plaintiff/victim testimony. In practice, better judicial decision-making in child abuse cases can improve or even save children's lives.

Approximately one million children are abused and/or neglected every year in the United States. In 1997, twenty-five percent of child abuse-related homicides occurred after state investigations had concluded that it was safe to return the child to her home. Child abuse cases illustrate why an accurate understanding of science is vital to law, because the life of a child- and not some abstract principle or legal theory- may hang in the balance.

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