Science, pseudoscience, and the law

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

Twitter Facebook

Seal of the United States Court of Federal Cla...
Image via Wikipedia

Science, pseudoscience, and the law >> Slaw:

Following up on Simon’s vaccines post from earlier this week comes the encouraging news that on Thursday (happy 200, Charles Darwin) the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued decisions in three vaccine-related test cases rejecting any causal link between vaccines and autism.

Yet, much like with the Pennsylvania victory in the battle over teaching evolution, I can only manage a half-hearted cheer at this latest triumph of science over superstition and ignorance. That it is even necessary to take this to trial – to say nothing of the refusal of so many to accept the correctness of the verdict – bears witness to how dismally science has failed to deliver its message to the broader public. The vaccine-autism hypothesis has been repeatedly debunked, yet millions of people still prefer to get medical information from Jenny McCarthy than from the Centers for Disease Control.

Alex Manevich then goes on to connect the rule of law with respect for science:

Both as citizens and as lawyers, this is our battle as well. Science and the rule of law go hand in hand. We want courts to decide guilt or liability based on causality and reliable evidence, not on mere hunch or coincidence. We expect one set of laws to apply to everyone, and that people cannot pick and choose only those they find convenient or agree with. We assume that laws are neither arbitrary nor secret, so that we can know the rules we are expected to adhere to.

A society that fails to understand or respect science implicitly endangers respect for the rule of law, and vice versa. And, I would argue, when the law tolerates or, worse, endorses pseudoscience, it eventually risks undermining its own legitimacy.

He makes a powerful point. The whole article is worth reading.