Irreconcilable Differences? The Troubled Marriage of Science and Law

28 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2009 Last revised: 18 Feb 2014

See all articles by Susan Haack

Susan Haack

University of Miami - School of Law; University of Miami - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: August 27, 2009


Because its business is to resolve disputed issues, the law very often calls on those fields of science where the pressure of commercial interests is most severe. Because the legal system aspires to handle disputes promptly, the scientific questions to which it seeks answers will often be those for which all the evidence is not yet in. Because of its case-specificity, the legal system often demands answers of a kind science is not well-equipped to supply; and, for related reasons, constitutes virtually the entire market for certain fields of forensic science and for certain psychiatric specialties. Because of its adversarial character, the law tends to draw in scientists who are more willing than most to give an opinion on less-than-overwhelming evidence; and the more often such a witness testifies, the more unbudgeably confident he may become in his opinion. Legal rules can make it impossible to bring potentially useful scientific information to light, and the legal penchant for “indicia” and the like can transform scientific subtleties into legal shibboleths. And because of its concern for precedent, and the desideratum of finality, the law sometimes lags behind scientific advances.

Keywords: expert testimony, Daubert, Joiner, science, inquiry vs. advocacy, fallibilism vs. finality, innovation vs. inertia

Suggested Citation

Haack, Susan, Irreconcilable Differences? The Troubled Marriage of Science and Law (August 27, 2009). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 72, No. 1, 2009; University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-22. Available at SSRN:

Susan Haack (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States
305-284-3541 (Phone)
305-284-6506 (Fax)

University of Miami - Department of Philosophy ( email )

P.O. Box 248054
Coral Gables, FL 33124-4670
United States

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