Social Scientific Evidence

31 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2015

Date Written: August 6, 2015


This paper considers two distinct and internally complex language regions, those of the contemporary American trial and of the social sciences. Its concern is how the trial treats the social sciences, not how the social sciences treat the trial. It first surveys the controversies that surround each region and argues that those controversies counsel against any "craving for generality" in defining their relationship with one another. It then describes the canonical account of the trial implicit in the rationalist tradition of evidence scholarship and explains how that account understands the place of social scientific evidence within it. The paper contrasts that received view of the trial with a more concrete and, to my mind, adequate interpretation of the trial. It then provides an account of the various functions of the social sciences within that more adequate understanding of the trial.

Keywords: trial, social science, evidence, Wittgenstein

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K49

Suggested Citation

Burns, Robert P., Social Scientific Evidence (August 6, 2015). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 15-43, Available at SSRN: or

Robert P. Burns (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-6613 (Phone)
312-503-8977 (Fax)

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