[IWAR] LAW science and law

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Fri Apr 24 1998 - 10:08:56 PDT

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    I don't want to get off on a rant here, but law, rooted in common law and
    history, bogged down with bureaucracy and interpretation, has small chance of
    keeping pace with science and technology.  For a mild example, look at the
    foundations of property law, and how digital property muddies the view--a
    perfect copy which doesn't 'deprive' the source copyholder of benefit; this
    problem will only get worse with the evolution of nanotech, where 'reality as
    program' turns the laws of supply and demand on their head.  --MW
    Thursday April 23 7:32 PM EDT 
    Closer Ties Between Science And The Law
       NEW YORK (Reuters) -- US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer believes
       positive steps are being taken to improve the sometimes difficult
       relationship between science and the law.
       "In this age of science we must build legal foundations that are sound
       in science as well as in law," Breyer says. He believes that in doing
       so, "the law will work better to resolve many of the most important
       human problems of our time."
       His address to this year's meeting of the American Association for the
       Advancement of Science (AAAS) is reprinted in the current issue of the
       journal Science.
       Breyer points out that scientists are increasingly being called upon to
       help decide court cases whose outcomes will have far-reaching social
       implications. Cases involving assisted suicide, partial-birth abortion,
       product liability, environmental toxins, polygraph testing, and
       paternity testing are among a plethora of important legal issues
       recently debated by courts across the nation. All have relied on an
       assessment of often conflicting scientific evidence and expert opinion.
       Breyer believes that the current court system is often ill-prepared to
       meet these challenges. "Most judges lack the scientific training that
       might facilitate the evaluation of scientific claims," he says, and
       "scientific evidence itself may be highly uncertain and controversial."
       Faced with these problems, the US judiciary "has begun to look for ways
       to improve the quality of the science on which scientifically-related
       judicial determinations will rest," Breyer said.
       He notes that scientific legal briefs -- 30-page documents supplied by
       partisan or outside experts -- provide an overview of the science
       involved in particular issues, and are now required reading for judges
       presiding over more complex types of cases.
       As well, Breyer says many judges "...increasingly have used pretrial
       conferences to narrow the scientific issues in dispute," helping to keep
       proceedings on track and simplify matters for jury members.
       Independent experts (not tied to either plaintiff or defendant) are also
       being appointed by the court more frequently. However, Breyer admits
       that truly neutral experts may be nearly impossible to find in many
       cases. In an effort to alleviate this situation, the AAAS, the American
       Bar Association and the Federal Judicial Center, have launched a joint
       project aimed at drawing up a pre-approved pool of candidates who might
       serve as court-appointed experts with some degree of neutrality.
       Finally, Breyer believes education will be a key factor in improving the
       science of the courtroom. Efforts at informing scientists in the ways of
       the court and training judges to better understand scientific method,
       should also go a long way "to help bring science and law closer
       together," he said. SOURCE: Science (1998;280:837-838)

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