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Understanding Science and Scientific Methods: An Overview for Lawyers

Fall Semester AY 2005-06
Mondays, 10:00 - 11:50AM

Keith T. Poole
Professor of Political Science
University of California, San Diego
E-Mail: KPoole@ucsd.edu
WebSite: Voteview Home Page

Course Overview

Through an examination of scientific findings in recent cases involving product liability, such as breast implants and asbestos, and regulatory affairs, we will examine the uses and misuses of science and statistics in legal decision making and in law making. The student will learn the differences between legal and scientific reasoning and how to understand scientific findings and relate them to the practice of law.

The following texts will be used in this course:

Kenneth R. Foster and Peter W. Huber. 1999. Judging Science: Scientific Knowledge and the Federal Courts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Stephen H. Gehlbach. 2002. Interpreting the Medical Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill.


One paper is required. The length should be no more than 20 double-spaced pages. The topic must be related to the issues raised by the course readings, discussion, and lectures. The paper must be properly footnoted and references provided. The paper is due by the end of the semester, 16 December 2005.

Course Outline

  1. Overview -- The Collision of Science and the Law


  2. Agent Orange and Dioxin

    1. The Science of Dioxin


    2. The Use of Agent Orange in Vietnam


    3. The Health Politics of Agent Orange and Dioxin

      1. The Sample Population: Are Vietnam Veterans Really that Different From Everyone Else?



        • Burkett, B. G., and Glenna Whitley. 1998. Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of its Heroes and its History. Dallas, TX: Verity Press, Inc. Chapters 3, 7, 10, and 12.

      2. Cohort Studies of Dioxin


      3. The "Ranch Hand" Cohort Study


    4. Agent Orange in the Courtroom: U. S. Veterans vs. Dow Chemical, 1984 "Settlement"?


      Summary of the Known Health Effects of Dioxin on Vietnam Veterans

  3. Bendectin and Morning Sickness: Can Any Product be Absolutely Safe?

    1. The Science of Bendectin: How Certain Can Epidemological Studies Be?

      1. What is Scientific Knowledge?

        Definitions of Science and the Scientific Method (PDF)


        • Foster and Huber, Judging Science, Chapter 4.

        Summary of 10 October 2005 Class (PDF)

        Examples of Axiomatic Systems (PDF)

      2. Does Scientific Knowledge have a Special Status?


        • Foster and Huber, Judging Science, Chapter 5.

        Summary of 17 October 2005 Class (PDF)

      3. Can there be Certainty in Science?


        • Foster and Huber, Judging Science, Chapter 6.

      4. What is Scientific Consensus and who is Qualified to State What it is?


        • Foster and Huber, Judging Science, Chapter 7.

      Summary of 24 October 2005 Class (PDF)

    2. The Placebo Effect


      Summary of 31 October 2005 Class (PDF)

    3. The Health Politics of Bendectin


      Summary of 7 November 2005 Class (PDF)

    4. Bendectin in the Courtroom: William Daubert et al. v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.


      • Foster and Huber, Judging Science, Chapters 8, 9, and Appendices A, B, and C.

      Frye, Rule 702, and Rehnquist (PDF)

      Daubert and Science Questions (PDF)

      Summary of 14 November 2005 Class (PDF)

  4. Breast Implants: What Happens if there is no Scientific Evidence Regarding the Safety of a Device or Product?



    Summary of 21 November 2005 Class (PDF)

  5. Asbestos: How Dangerous is Dangerous?


  6. Conclusion