Will Lawyers Destroy Science?

Justice: Blind and scientifically illiterate. (Credit: Storyblocks)

Several posts on this blog report on legal maneuvers as anti-fossil fuel activists turn to the courts to advance their agenda.  Now we have an article questioning whether legal thinking is relevant to scientific issues.  From Alex Berezow, editor of RealClearScience: (Full text below in italics with my bolds)

Will Lawyers Destroy Science?

Scientists and lawyers do not get along. There’s a reason for that. Simply put, scientists and lawyers do not think alike.

I was smacked in the face by this reality when I was called into jury duty in 2011. The case involved a car accident, and the standard in Washington State for the jury to decide in favor of the plaintiff is a “preponderance of evidence,” which is a fancy way of saying, “51 percent.” Essentially, a coin toss decides if the plaintiff wins a bunch of money.

The judge asked if any of the potential jurors objected to that. I did. “I’m a scientist,” I explained, “and I need more evidence than that.” So, I was shown the door.*

That experience taught me that scientists and lawyers live in two completely different worlds. Scientists want 95% confidence and margins of error; lawyers want 51% confidence. Scientists want all evidence to be considered; lawyers do everything in their power to dismiss evidence they don’t like. Scientists rely on reports written by experts; lawyers often consider them inadmissible hearsay. At their best, scientists pursue truth; at their best, lawyers pursue the truth, so long as it benefits the client.

These are fundamentally irreconcilable worldviews that are forever destined to be in conflict. And the lawyers are winning.

Scales of justice Alaska Commons

Will Lawyers Destroy Science?

Consider Mark Jacobson, the climate scientist who is suing a prestigious journal for $10 million because it hurt his feelings. There is good reason to believe that the lawsuit will be dismissed, but not before lawyers have collected a nice fee for themselves. Jacobson’s attorneys and the journal’s attorneys can both make a lot of money arguing with each other, even if the suit never actually goes to trial. Routinely, lawyers are required to solve problems that they themselves created. If something like this were to occur in any other area of life, it would be called racketeering.

Recently, RealClearScience wrote an article that covered a paper published in the journal Case Reports in Gastrointestinal Medicine about how a particular herbal tea was linked to acute liver failure. The maker of the tea threatened to sue RealClearScience, which pulled the article because it didn’t want to deal with a lawyer.

In both examples, the scientific enterprise is collateral damage. The mere threat of a lawsuit can be used to shut down scientific debate. This is deeply troubling.

A Lawsuit-Happy Nation

Unfortunately, there are no signs of such lawsuit abuse stopping. Researchers at Harvard’s John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business published a report that showed that the number of lawsuits filed in the United States far exceeds those of similar countries:

On a per capita basis, the lawsuit rate in the U.S. is higher than Canada (by 4 times), Australia (3.8x), Japan (3.3x), France (2.4x), and the UK (1.6x).

Beware, science. A lawsuit-happy nation turns its eyes to you.

*Note: Mission accomplished. I didn’t want to be there, anyway.

Dr. Alex Berezow is the Founding Editor of RealClearScience and Assistant Editor of RealClearWorld. He also is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. Furthermore, he co-authored the book Science Left Behind, which sold more than 5,000 copies. His work regularly appears in USA Today and The Economist, among other publications. In 2010, he earned a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington.

See Also:

Critical Climate Intelligence for Jurists (and others)

Climate Scientist Sues Over Hurt Feelings




  1. Hifast · January 7

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    Lawyers love the precautionary principle. “As a precaution against all the possible perils of a warmer planet, let’s do this….”

    I would counter that a colder planet is much more inhospitable than a warmer one. Eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear power will make humanity far more vulnerable to the perils of a colder planet.


  2. oiltranslator · January 7

    Raw temperature data uncut with anomalies or fake adjustments, shows a cooling trend this past century. A graph of tampered temperature “anomalies” on Frolly’s recent video shows cooling adjustments before and added temperature after the 1987 freon ban forced on us by politicians because “Bozone Hole!” Could CO2ercion simply be a ruse to explain away a higher air conditioner failure rate?


  3. ArndB · January 7

    Comment to: “lawyers pursue the truth, so long as it benefits the client.”
    Lawyers – judge and attorneys alike – are obliged to find a solution. Within this task they pursue the truth as much as possible. For this reason there is a court system and a judiciary.

    Comment to: „Will Lawyers Destroy Science?”
    NO! Science is more likely to fool them self. The subject CO2 is a too big matter to demonstrate here the threat science face if proven wrong – one day. But take the point that science is unable to recognize that good science requires good definition. But they are not even able to come up with reasonable definition on “CLIMATE”. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) has none at all. See: http://www.whatisclimate.com/

    After all lawyers can be with regard to “scientific truth” not better, or more truth worthy, as climate science. If science is incompetent and dumb, lawyers cannot make science more honest or climate science better .


  4. cognog2 · January 7


    Ref: “—-good science requires good definition”
    Yes indeed. The IPCC definition of Radiative forcing due to CO2 increase ( at around 1.6 Watts/sq.m) does NOT comply with thermodynamic law. See AR4 & 5 WG1.

    Need I say more?

    Well perhaps. I have never been able to extract an explanation for this from the Warmist camp in the 10 years of my observations on this subject. Nor have I received support from the sceptical camp.


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