Prior to Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, the courts allowed scientists to play gatekeeper by deciding what was good science–permissible in the courtroom–and what wasn’t. However, in 1993, the Supreme Court ruled in Daubert that judges and not scientists should not be the ultimate arbiters of the quality of science.
Many argue that since Daubert, respected expert witnesses (especially chemistry experts, pharmaceutical experts, toxicolgy experts, and other scientists) have seen their legitimacy questioned, even rejected, by judges who may know very little about the subject. Critics of Daubert argue that some plaintiffs, especially those in toxic tort cases, might find it harder to win their case against large corporations without having scientists who can testify on their behalf.
Some suggest that the standards set in Daubert need to be refined to allow more cutting edge science in the courtroom. These critics suggest that courts should consider the amount of research that has been done in the subject area, who has had access to that research, and how widely accepted is the research.
In future entries in this blog, we will examine how courts have treated expert witnesses in various specialities.