Science and Law, like Love and Marriage: it’s complicated.

This is my attempt to understand then distill and describe how the American legal system can be compared to the scientific method.  While this may seem like an obvious notion (it certainly did to me) there is actually an entire field of legal study devoted to comparative law.  Who knew? (clearly this Ernest Bruncken guy did, bet he feels Important.)

If you were brave enough to read the entire entry, while not being responsible for blogging about it, either you love the subject or deserve a medal.  This is a big subject, but the title of the book from which the excerpt comes says a great deal “Science Of Legal Method“, by Ernest Bruncken.

Now for my brief observations.  (It’s in outline formish, I promise)

1.  Similar types of thinking are required for both.

a.  Research is the best first step once the question is posed.

b.  Analysis of the situation and *acceptance of the results should be dispassionate.

c.  Post review can determine factors could have changed the outcome.

*Unless the results of (c) could change (b) which may lead to retrying.

d.  The focus is on disproving the assumption.

e.  Results can be overturned many years later as civilization changes.

For those of you who are more visual here is a lovely flow chart for the scientific method and, you may want to increase the window view for this one, the  more complex legal flow chart.

2.  The legal system does have some special features.

a.  A much more narrow focus, which affects the way in which questions are posed and answered.

b. For every hypothesis there is an opposing one and both are constructed to convince a third party.

c.  There is room for variation from typical rules and the final determination is, quite literally, opinion* and almost always has parts that can be argued against.

*It does still require supporting evidence.

d.  There are a great variety of reasons that an actual test of the hypothesis may never occur.

At the end of the day, the important focus is for the law to use scientific thinking, even if the specific method does not work well for it.  This is a lesson that can serve in many aspects of our lives.

Next time …

Maybe some fiction or ideas about hyperbole either could contain some silly literary references like this one did.

This time I’m keeping it a secret (even from myself)

*stage whisper* mysterious

About Happy Skeptic

I was born in 1976 and grew up in Central, IL. I was lucky enough to attend both a Community College and complete my education at a 4 year university. My personal goals include furthering my education and improving my writing skills. I'm happily married and parenting back in the Mid-West after stints in LasVegas, NV and LosAngeles, CA (where I hope to return permanently one day)
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5 Responses to Science and Law, like Love and Marriage: it’s complicated.

  1. ken says:

    Of course in the court room you also have to consider eyewitness testimony which counts for little if anything in the magical science “lab” the scientoid types swoon over. Unless, of course, the testimony is “corroborated” by 40,000 other witnesses. Apparently we cannot witness or experience anything on our own and put any “faith” in it without Richard Dawkins gawking over our shoulder to make sure nothing is amiss.

  2. Ann T. Dogma says:

    Christopher Columbus Langdell would approve of your post. This time I will have to be contrarian in my response (unless I misapprehended your point, which is possible, as this topic makes me see red). In law school I was introduced to CCL’s theory that principles of law can be discovered, much as principles of nature are discoverable, through a scientific approach. Big Problem: Law is a human creation that reflects the cultural assumptions and biases of the power holders in the society and era of its creation. That alone should completely discredit any theory comparing the fields of science and law. While it is possible to find analogies wherever you look, I believe law and science are actually more of a contrast to each other than a similarity. While social science might reveal much about the social psychology surrounding the evolution of law, I think Mr. Langdell was barking up the wrong tree, probably because he was trying to give the dusty arbitrariness of law the intellectual heft and sparkling precision of science. Law, by design, is not about finding truth, it is about arriving at an enforceable, justifiable conclusion. That is why even the most noble practice of law is nothing like science, which, when practiced properly, does have the discovery of truth as its goal.

  3. Happy Skeptic says:

    I’m certainly not familiar enough with the entire theory to see us as being in the same argument. My blog was comparing and contrasting the scientific method (not all of scientific thought or occurrences in nature) to the American Legal system (not the laws, but the actual method of application via the courts); both of which are created by humans. I was going for a way to look at how most of us would interact with the American Justice system along side something that is more familiar and straight forward. While I did attempt to be very clear that this is a lye person’s take on the subject, maybe my links lead to more devise writers.
    Perhaps you could share links to some better writers and/or book recommendations for those who do want to look at this more in-depth as a whole theory.

  4. Ann T. Dogma says:

    Happy Skeptic, your points are well-taken. Law does evolve, much as other cultural artifacts, but it seems to have a strong and resistant conservative bias, which keeps it anchored (precedent). Yet this can be a double-edged sword, further strengthening entrenched interests.

    A friend of mine once said that if you want to change the world, don’t go into law. Go into the arts, because more people will listen to and internalize the words of a song than will read a bill, statute, the Federal Register or any court decision.

    If I learn of any good authors in this area I will pass them along to you.

  5. Jay Pea says:

    While there are similarities in law and science, I think that the biggest and perhaps most important difference is peer review. In a trial, a prosecutor or a defense lawyer only needs to convince 12 people where as in science you have to convince a whole field. A slick lawyer may be able to talk his client out of a guilty verdict, but no matter who slick a scientist you are, if your theory is wrong, it will be found out.

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