Exposure to potentially harmful substances at some level is a fact of modern life. These substances are everywhere — in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, and in the water we drink — and many of these substances are naturally occurring. It is impossible to have zero exposure to all of them.

For both science and law, however, the issue is not whether someone has some detectable exposure. Rather, it is whether the dose was sufficient (in quantity and duration) to cause harm.

In a regulatory setting, the question posed is what level of exposure creates an unreasonable risk of harm. In a lawsuit, however, the alleged harm has already occurred, usually in the form of a disease that has many possible causes. The question is causation.
Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Ruling On Scientific Evidence Closes Some Doors But Opens Others

The string of retractions of published peer-reviewed medical and scientific articles due concerns about fraud or suspected fraud continues. This week a major publisher of scientific and medical articles has confirmed that it is retracting 64 articles from 10 of its subscription journals based on concerns that the peer review process was “compromised.”

The publisher, Springer, issued this statement:
Continue Reading More Publications Retracted Due to Suspected Fraud

“Law lags science; it does not lead it.” Our legal system requires proof, and in many cases, only scientific evidence can provide it. With controversies swirling around about fraud and misconduct in scientific publications, how do product liability lawyers distinguish between credible scientific evidence and science that is, as Justice Scalia would say, “junky”?  Here are three ways to spot junk science before it trashes your case:
Continue Reading Three Ways to Spot Junk Science

Almost every day we are bombarded with reports of scientific studies purportedly proving that exposure to, or consumption of, some substance will cause us harm. Recent examples include claims that vaccines cause autism, BPA kills, and genetically modified foods engender disease. While there is little to no filter on what “science” is presented to the general public through the available forms of media and communications, what jurors are allowed to hear in courts of law is very different. Courts require much tougher standards before admitting scientific evidence. Good science proposes a hypothesis then sets about to try and disprove it – – not just seek “proof” supporting the hypothesis. Good science results from research, application of the scientific method, and peer review. Courts look to these criteria when determining whether to admit scientific evidence under the Frye or Daubert standards. Judges thereby serve a “gate-keeping function[] to differentiate serious science from ‘junk science.’”   

But outside of the courtroom there are no judicial gatekeepers. As a result junk science has crept its way into the headlines. So how can the public differentiate between legitimate science and junk science? One answer is to trust credited experts, not sensationalized headlines. Three recent examples highlight the pitfalls of jumping to conclusions: 
Continue Reading Spring Cleaning: Throwing Junk Science Where It Belongs