I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

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My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cornelia Dean on Scientific Disputes in the Courts

A recent New York Times commentary by Cornelia Dean discusses the general subject of scientific disputes in the courts (this is a two-page article). Incidentally, Dean has been criticized many times by both Evolution News & Views and Darwinian Fundamentalism for biased reporting on the evolution controversy.

Dean's article says,

Perhaps the knottiest problem . . . . has been deciding what scientific evidence or testimony should be considered in the first place.(emphasis added)

However, deciding what scientific evidence or testimony to consider is not the only knotty problem; other knotty problems -- which Dean completely ignores -- are deciding whether or not to rule on a scientific question and whether or not to hear or look at scientific evidence or testimony. For the following reasons, courts should IMO avoid deciding scientific questions except when such a decision is absolutely necessary to reach a decision in the case:

(1) The courts have no general constitutional or statutory authority to decide scientific questions.

(2) For various reasons, the courts are ill-suited to decide scientific questions.

(3) Many scientific questions cannot be answered with any degree of certainty.

(4) Often the courts get to hear only a very narrow range of expert opinions on a scientific question.

(5) A court ruling on a scientific question can prejudice scientific debate and adversely affect careers.

An amicus brief submitted by 85 scientists in the Kitzmiller v. Dover intelligent design case discusses why courts should try to avoid deciding scientific questions. Also, two legal scholars -- one of them definitely anti-ID -- said that Judge Jones should not have ruled on the scientific merits of ID; see here and here.

In Edwards v. Aguillard, a case where the courts refused to even hear scientific arguments, the Supreme Court said (482 U.S. 578, 595-596),

. . . .the postenactment testimony of outside experts is of little use in determining the Louisiana Legislature's purpose in enacting this statute. The Louisiana Legislature did hear and rely on scientific experts in passing the bill, but none of the persons making the affidavits produced by the appellants participated in or contributed to the enactment of the law or its implementation. The District Court, in its discretion, properly concluded that a Monday morning "battle of the experts" over possible technical meanings of terms in the statute would not illuminate the contemporaneous purpose of the Louisiana Legislature when it made the law.

Of course, Judge Jones did not follow this Edwards precedent when he decided the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

I think that product liability cases and environmental cases might generally be the only kinds of cases where courts can justify ruling on scientific questions. In these kinds of cases, deciding scientific questions may be essential for deciding the case.

The current global-warming case before the Supreme Court is really a matter of whether the US Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to consider regulating greenhouse gas emissions and not a matter of how the EPA should regulate those emissions or even whether the EPA should regulate those emissions. In a Supreme Court oral hearing on this case, Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al., No. 05-1120, James Milkey, Mass. Assistant Attorney General, argued(pages 3-4),

EPA's principle (sic) grounds was that it lacked authority over the emissions of the four substances at issue, even if they, in fact, endanger public health and welfare . . .

We are not asking the Court to pass judgment on the science of climate change or order EPA to set emission standards. We simply want EPA to visit the rulemaking petition based upon permissible considerations.

Also, Dean wrote,

They [lawyers] know their desired outcome at the outset, so they gather arguments to support it. While it would be unethical for scientists reporting on their work to omit findings that don’t fit their hypotheses, lawyers are under no compunction (sic) to introduce evidence that hurts their cases; that’s the other side’s job.

That is not entirely true -- in criminal trials, prosecutors are obligated to reveal evidence that would tend to exculpate the defendant.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Voice in the Wilderness said...

> Darwinian Fundamentalism <

There is no such thing, only creationist fundamentalism.

> courts should IMO avoid deciding scientific questions <

ID is not a scientific question.

Friday, December 08, 2006 7:16:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Fafarman said...

The most famous image of Algore's Inconvenient Truth video is him standing in front of a huge satellite photo of Hurricane Katrina over New Orleans. Claiming the storm was our fault through man-made global warming, he apocalyptically predicted an inevitable succession of such storms in the years to come.

Yet this year's hurricane season has just ended -- without one single hurricane of any size making landfall on the US. This of course is dismissed by global warming religious fanatics -- for like any religious fanatic, only confirming evidence counts, disconfirming evidence never.

The question, then, ... to ask of global warming advocates is:

"What would you accept as falsifying, disconfirming evidence for global warming and that we are its cause? How would you go about proving it wrong?"

This is the key question of science. Whenever it is not asked, science is absent.

See ToThePointNews (subscription required) (recommended).

Friday, December 08, 2006 9:17:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Fake Dave said,
>>>>>Yet this year's hurricane season has just ended -- without one single hurricane of any size making landfall on the US. <<<<<

Not all hurricanes make landfall in the US.

Already forecasters are predicting increased hurricane activity next year. An AOL news article says,

Colorado State forecaster William Gray predicted 14 named storms next year, including three major hurricanes and four other hurricanes.

Gray and fellow researcher Philip Klotzbach said fewer hurricanes are likely to make landfall compared to last year, which had the busiest and most destructive hurricane season on record.

It had 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes, four of which hit the U.S. The worst of those was Katrina, which leveled parts of the Gulf Coast.

This year's season had nine named storms and five hurricanes, two of them major. That was considered a "near normal" season but fell short of predictions by Gray and government scientists.

No hurricanes hit the U.S. Atlantic coast in 2006 -- only the 11th time that has occurred since 1945.


>>>>>> This of course is dismissed by global warming religious fanatics -- for like any religious fanatic, only confirming evidence counts, disconfirming evidence never. <<<<<<

I have never heard of global-warming skepticism being associated with religion.

Friday, December 08, 2006 3:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Voice in the Wilderness said...

Fake Larry(?) said...

> Not all hurricanes make landfall in the US. <

A literal fountain of irrelevance!

Friday, December 08, 2006 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Voice in the Wilderness said...

>>>>>> Not all hurricanes make landfall in the US. <

A literal fountain of irrelevance! <<<<<<

No, it is not irrelevant. The number of hurricanes making landfall in the US is not an indicator of overall hurricane activity.

Friday, December 08, 2006 11:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Voices, Kevin, Real Dave,

It looks like Bozo the Troll has placed a "kick me" sign on his back and bent over again. Just kicking his butt over the crossbar will not be considered sufficient to win any prizes. Accuracy and style will also count. All entries must be in by Tuesday.

Saturday, December 09, 2006 12:03:00 PM  

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