By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Even good science can sometimes be a tough sell in the court of public opinion. Take, for example, the moment in Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney's acceptance speech last week where he mocked the President's concern over rising sea levels. The crowd of delegates in Tampa cheered wildly, though the fact of sea level rise, if not its exact cause, is scientifically uncontroversial.
In the actual courts, the fate of good scientific information can be just as uncertain, as can the fate of bad science. Even in this age of Daubert, separating the valid from the invalid can be a challenge for both jurors and judges. In the upcoming trial of Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan, for example, there is a current controversy over the testimony of Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism expert who has classified Hasan as a "homegrown terrorist" on the basis of a six-factor model he developed, which may or may not be falsifiable or replicable. In the more typical case relying on expert testimony, the need to convince judges and jurors to critically evaluate the methods and the reasoning that under-girds research conclusions can be critical. In this post, we'll take a look at one study showing that jurors are able to identify some but not most methodological flaws in research, and draw some conclusions on the best practices for separating the good science from the bad in litigation.