Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Scopes II and scientific testimony

This would be the irony of all ironies if the Bush administration had not effectively killed irony. Perhaps this will be in the nature of a Resurrection. We have elsewhere posted (and here) on the Supreme Court's 1993 decision on scientific evidence, Daubert v. Merrell Dow, and remarked on the baneful effect it has had on the ability of legitimate scientists to testify in court regarding legitimate science. Now, in Pennsylvania we have the "Scopes II" trial pending in federal court and Daubert on the Web has a review of the issues involving expert scientific testimony in that case.

Scopes II is officially Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Dist. (.pdf), the case of the school board in Dover, PA wishing to teach "intelligent design" alongside evolution in biology classes. Parents filed suit, alleging infringement on the Establishment Clause of the constitution (disalowing establishment of religious belief under state auspices). So to help the school board make their case, they have engaged biochemist Michael Behe to testify that "intelligent design" was a reliable scientific methodology. The trial judge is required, under Daubert, to make a determination of this before allowing such testimony to be presented.

Read Peter Nordberg's analysis of whether "intelligent design" could pass even a relaxed Daubert standard. And he asks:
So should Prof. Behe's testimony come in? Our own general outlook on expert testimony is to favor a permissive approach, and to repose substantial trust in the trier of fact (in this case, the same federal judge who would rule on admissibility) to sort things out. But some species of expert evidence put our tolerant attitude to the test. Polygraph testimony is one example. And this, we must say, is another.
Good question. This will be fascinating. As will the reaction to a decision to exclude or not to exclude. Will we inherit the wind or reap the whirlwind?