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Of truth, in science and in law

Haack, Susan
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In 1966, the United States Supreme Court averred that “the basic purpose of a trial is the determination of truth.” In 1993, in the landmark ruling in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., that set new standards for the admissibility of expert scientific testimony, Justice Blackmun was a bit more cautious, writing that “there are important differences between the quest for truth in the courtroom and the quest for truth in the laboratory.” In my view, however, a trial—even a trial at which the main issue is a matter of fact, such as whether it was the defendant or someone else who pulled the trigger, or whether it was the drug in question or something else that caused the injury—isn’t exactly a “search for truth.” Rather, a trial is better described as a late stage of a whole process of determining a defendant’s guilt or liability: the stage at which, under the legal guidance of the court, advocates for each side present evidence in the light most favorable to their case, and the finder of fact sifts through it and assesses whether it establishes guilt or liability to the required degree of proof ​
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