The Scientist and Engineer in Court

The Scientist and Engineer in Court

Author(s): Michael D. Bradley

Published Online: 15 MAR 2013

Print ISBN: 9780875903095

Online ISBN: 9781118665688

DOI: 10.1029/WM008

About this Book

Published by the American Geophysical Union as part of the Water Resources Monograph Series, Volume 8.

The gavel goes down, the witness is called and sworn in: "Will you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" Every court day scientists and engineers take this oath, yet few know the duties of an expert witness and fewer still know the procedures in a lawsuit. Unprepared for the courtroom, they watch a drama unfold without benefit of the plot (Ball, 1975). Courtrooms swirl with costume and ceremony. Jury, judge, and spectators assume roles: audience, director, trier of the facts. And the lawyers! Lawyers are the key dramatis personae. Protagonist and antagonist confront one another as lawyers argue their clients cases in the courtroom. They object endlessly. They cross-examine opposing witnesses mercilessly. They speak an opaque jargon of "laches," "remittitur" and "stare decisis." They speak Latin: "ab initio," "in pari causa," "lex loci actus." They speak old French: "estoppel," "fee simple," "voire dire." And they speak law-speak: "abuse of discretion," "clearly erroneous," "malice aforethought" (Mellinkoff, 1963). They call contrary versions of the same story true. They plead for understanding and compassion. They mix independent variables called "facts" and a dependent variable called "law" into an argumentative gruel for court consumption. Then it's over, and the judge delivers his or her opinion. One lawyer calls it the decision of the decade, a magnificent example of benign, reasoned law. The other darkly threatens to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to relieve an onerous and oppressive injustice. All of this is fascinating theatre, but to the unprepared scientist or engineer, the drama has none of the charm and all of the clarity of a Japanese "Noh" play.

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