Research Report #18B:
The Supreme Court: Methodology and the Scientific Method
In December 1997, in General Electric et al. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997), the Supreme Court strengthened trial judges’ power to bar controversial scientific evidence from their courtrooms. Appeals courts were ordered to exhibit restraint in second-guessing trial judges in cases in which they exclude controversial scientific evidence. This ruling is another example of the need for lawyers and judges to have a more complete understanding of scientific evidence and the methodology of the scientific method.
The U.S. Supreme Court makes a number of references to methodology in the Daubert decision. Several authors point out that the words “method” and “methodology” are ambiguous since they may have so many different meanings. It was misinterpretation of the word “method” that started false claims that the scientific method does not exist.
The Significance of the Scientific Method as a General Method for All Fields
I have previously quoted Copi, one of the many authors I encountered in my research who called attention to the scientific method being a general method. In the Daubert decision the U.S. Supreme Court quoted J. Zinman, who, in his book Public Knowledge (1968), acknowledges that the scientific method is a general method. It is simply that, since men of science first recognized the method and were the main developers and extenders of it, it became know as their method. They brought fame to it by the high degree of care and creativity they used. Research clearly shows that it is a general method. Now that the Supreme Court has recognized the scientific method, there is no reason that it should not be used in patent cases, business cases, and all other fields. I predict that this Court, for having recognized and for requiring the use of the scientific method, will go down in history for making one of the greatest landmark decisions of the twentieth century.
“Good Grounds,” “Good Science,” and “Reliable Foundation”
The U.S. Supreme Court used these three terms in its opinion. Basically, these requirements are met by properly following the steps or stages of the scientific method, using creative, non-logical, logical, and technical methods with the proper applicable procedural principles and theories with desirable personal attributes and thinking skills.
Decision Making Is Problem Solving – Another Reason for Learning the Scientific Method
Lawyers and their clients must always make decisions about what to do in complex matters. This is basically problem solving. For best results, the scientific method should be followed. See my websites www.decisionmaking.org and www.problemsolving.net.
In the Daubert decision, the U.S. Supreme Court called attention to the theory of falsification in the testing of theories and techniques. Chief Justice Rehnquist, in his partial dissent, expressed concern whether federal judges would understand what was meant. The literature on falsification is confusing, but, in simple language, using the scientific method at Stage 9, Challenge the Hypothesis, you may offer supporting evidence, but you must also test and try to disprove or falsify your theory. Many “expert” witnesses fail to do this.
Scientific Knowledge and Scientific Evidence
In the Daubert decision and the Federal Rules of Evidence, there are many references to scientific knowledge, scientific evidence, and scientific validity. These terms are difficult to define.
If you attempt to search the literature for what scientific knowledge is, you soon find it to be an almost impossible task, for there are so many opinions, descriptions, disputes, and qualifications as to what science really is. In the Daubert decision, the U.S. Supreme Court may have had this diversity of expert opinions in mind when it said”
“There Are No Certainties in Science”
In the Daubert decision, the Supreme Court states: “Of course, it would be unreasonable to conclude that the subject of scientific testimony must be ‘known’ to a certainty; arguably, there are no certainties in science.” In regard to suspending judgment, open mindedness, and certainty of knowledge, the best term I found in my research was that of Professor Childe:
This could be enlarged to the following, which would indicate more reliable knowledge:
Scientific Method Review
Much Literature and Many Opinions about the Scientific Method Are Incorrect
The scientific method has not been adequately taught the last 50 years because of false claims it does not exist. This resulted in much reasoning in the literature and many opinions about the scientific method and related matters being incorrect. This applies even to the works of some of our greatest authorities and professional leaders. Be careful in your research in the field of law. There is a need for material simplifying science from a practical law outlook.
Teaching the Scientific Method
In the teaching of law, there is a strong movement to make teaching more relevant to actual practice. Part of this is to teach by the problem method (Journal of Legal Education, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 654-673, Dec. 1984). This movement needs a base which can only be a good formula for the steps or stages to the scientific method, an example being SM-14. Thus, all interested in the teaching and practice of law should become familiar of the details of the scientific method.
The Scientific Method Is the Method of Knowledge
It has been stated that “knowledge is our biggest industry.” However, I stress that the scientific method has not been adequately taught in our schools. Use this website as a start to help you better understand what scientific knowledge, the scientific method, and good grounds are. Since this method is a natural one and the method of knowledge, you will probably find that you have been knowingly or unknowingly using it or part of it in your work. In Teaching of Scientific Method (1903), Professor H.E. Armstrong says, “The method of science, indeed, is the method of the Chancery Court . . .”
Another Endorsement of the Scientific Method
In the 1993 Supreme Court decision Daubert v Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the court reviewed the definitions of scientific evidence, scientific knowledge, scientific validity, and good science. As part of this case, the American Medical Association et al. filed an amicus brief in support of the respondent and stated:
“Scientific Knowledge” within the meaning of Rule 702 is knowledge derived from the application of the scientific method.