By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Lawyers and expert witnesses might be used to thinking of science as just one way among many of proving something: When you need to demonstrate a fact at an empirical level, commission an expert, do a study, and report the results. But there may be more to it than that. The value of the research and the meaning it conveys to the finders of fact, in other words, might go beyond the quality of the data and the strength of the conclusions. Instead, the science and your presentation of it may be conveying a moral point. That could sound counter-intuitive if you think of science and morality as polar opposites: the rational, dispassionate, and method-driven version of "true and false" on one side, and the received philosophical, spiritual or religious view of "right and wrong" on the other. A new study, however, points toward a continuity between the two.
A pair of University of California, Santa Barbara researchers (Ma-Kellams & Blaskovich, 2013) recently conducted four studies on the ways our thoughts about science can trigger moral beliefs and behaviors. The conclusion: An association between science and morality is so ingrained that simply thinking about science can be enough to trigger moral actions and thoughts. What does that mean for the role of science in litigation? For one thing, it suggests that the relevance of your science case doesn't just end with the legally relevant conclusions. Instead, your presentation should speak to the ways the scientific method overlaps with moral judgment, conveying the message, "We did it right, we did it completely, and we did it fairly." This post looks into the study, and follows up with a few ideas for presenting your science case in ways that account for this association between method and morality.