Thursday, March 25, 2010

Teaching Scientific (and Unscientific) Evidence

I have been assigned (at my request) to teach "Scientific (and Unscientific) Evidence" in the fall semester of this year. I have not taught such a course in many years. If you were teaching this two-credit course, would you:

1. Begin by discussing the "scientific method" and matters such as the "epistemology of science." (Is there such a thing? Are are there only epistemologies of sciences? And do practicing scientists as a practical matter worry about their epistemology or epistemologies? Does it matter what they worry about and what they don't?)

2. Discuss social sciences as well as the hard sciences. (If so, would you talk about the "really soft" social sciences and fields -- such as Freudian psychotherapy?)

3. Present students with courtroom simulations of introducing expert evidence at trial or cross-examining an expert witness.

4. Teach the students (and yourself) a little bit about statistics and statistical inference.

5. Teach the students a bit of probability theory.

6. Show a lot of films and video clips.

7. Invite a lot of visiting speakers and hope they agree to come and talk (at great length).

8. Run the course as a "problems" course -- leaving it to the students in the seminar to choose the topics for discussion and let them educate the rest of the class and you about their chosen topics.

9. Throw up your hands and say that the terrain of science is so vast and that our ignorance -- the ignorance of most of us in the law school world -- about "science" is so enormous that it is in principle impossible to teach "scientific (and unscientific) evidence" and tell the appropriate decanal superior you made a mistake and want to teach a different course.

And what should I assign for reading? Surely not a collection of judicial opinions that usually rest on profound misunderstanding of what science is all about! (Oh wait, that recent book by Jim Franklin may be just the ticket. I don't want to assign Rudolf Carnap, do I? Or do I? Perhaps I should have them read, not only Carnap, but also Popper, Wittgenstein, Bacon, Aristotle, Einstein, etc., etc..... But how much of that can they take? {At this point my soliloquy descends into incoherent mutterings and mumbo-jumbo.})

The dynamic evidence page

It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

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