Effective Use of Scientific Principles in The Courtroom: From Silicone to Talc and Beyond

Posted by on August 30, 2017

Nathan Schachtman is a lawyer with a deep respect and passion for the rigorous application of science in toxic tort and pharmaceutical and medical device litigation. Over the years, Nathan has played a significant role defending manufacturers of products as diverse as breast implants, welding rods, hormone replacement therapies, antidepressants, asbestos and silica.

Nathan has published and presented on topics of interest to both legal and scientific groups. Some of the subjects covered include the nature, admissibility, and peer review of scientific evidence, access to underlying research data for litigants, medico-legal screenings, and legal issues concerning the admissibility of scientific, medical, and historian expert witness testimony. Nathan’s blog is a rich source of information regarding current issues on science and the law.

In addition to writing and speaking, Mr. Schachtman has served as a peer reviewer for the Federal Judicial Center’s Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence (2d ed. 2000) and its Manual for Complex Litigation (4th ed. 2002), as well as for the National Academies of Sciences and its Committee on Science, Technology & Law. Nathan has authored an insightful educational module for the National Academy of Sciences: Drug-Induced Birth Defects: Exploring the Intersection of Regulation, Medicine, Science, and Law.

In the following interview, we spent some time with Nathan discussing topics related to science in the law, including the importance of epidemiology, toxicology and genomic science.

Below is an excerpt from our interview with Nathan.

You’ve been a big advocate for going deep into the science as it relates to the law. This includes the importance of epidemiology, toxicology and even genetic science. Why is it important to go deep in the science when you’re in a legal case?

Schachtman: I’m reminded of Albert Einstein’s famous quip that “a scientific theory should be as simple as possible but no simpler.” And I think we should go as deep as we need to go but no deeper. But as deep as we need to go is  usually much deeper than many of my colleagues would like to go and certainly much deeper than many judges sometimes are willing to tolerate.

Science can be nuanced and complex and I think there are dangers in oversimplification that lead to sort of a rhetorical rejection or rhetorical contradiction of your position if it’s not well grounded in all the details that are needed. Lawyers like simplistic, litmus tests; they like checklists. But science doesn’t always comply.

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