Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is the scientific method necessary in legal work?

Think you needn't be concerned with science and the scientific method if you're engaged in FVA, or work with DME or other electronic forensic science discipline? Think again.

Here's a section from an explanation of the Daubert decision:

Scientific knowledge = scientific method/methodology: A conclusion will qualify as scientific knowledge if the proponent can demonstrate that it is the product of sound "scientific methodology" derived from the scientific method.

Factors relevant: The Court defined "scientific methodology" as the process of formulating hypotheses and then conducting experiments to prove or falsify the hypothesis, and provided a nondispositive, nonexclusive, "flexible" set of "general observations" (i.e. not a "test") that it considered relevant for establishing the "validity" of scientific testimony:

  1. Empirical testing: whether the theory or technique is falsifiable, refutable, and/or testable.
  2. Whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication.
  3. The known or potential error rate.
  4. The existence and maintenance of standards and controls concerning its operation.
  5. The degree to which the theory and technique is generally accepted by a relevant scientific community.
So here's a philosophical question: does the fact that you don't work for the US federal government, or that you don't work in a state that adopted the Daubert standard mean that you should not be bound by sound scientific methodology in your forensic science work?

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