Same Old, Same Old: Scientific Evidence Past and Present

For over twenty years, and particularly since the Supreme Court’s Daubert decision in 1993, much ink has been spilled debating the problem of scientific evidence in the courts. Are jurors or, in the alternative, judges qualified to assess scientific reliability? Do courts really need to be concerned about “junk science”? What mechanisms can promote better decision making in scientific cases? Even a cursory scan of the literature shows the recent explosion of interest in these issues, precipitating new treatises, hundreds of articles, and countless conferences for judges, practitioners, and academics. To this literature, Professor Tal Golan adds Laws of Men and Laws of Nature, a welcome and much-needed book-length work on the history of scientific evidence. The book, which derives from Golan’s doctoral dissertation, can be roughly divided into two principal parts: The lion’s share concentrates on nineteenth-century developments in England and the United States, often in the context of business-related civil litigation. The remainder looks at fin de siecle America, more narrowly focusing on the relationship between the legal system and three then-emerging technologies: blood microscopy, x-rays, and lie detectors. An epilogue attempts to tie these historical discussions to the modern day Frye-Daubert debates, but it is largely an afterthought and is appropriately separated as such.