April 02, 2019

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY LAW: Judges and Juries Believe Weird Things

Lance D. Reich

People often read stories of trials that make apparently fantastic factual determinations—for example, an award of billions in damages for a company’s production of a chemical whose link to causing harm is very tenuous. In the worst instance, people have been convicted of crimes based on “repressed memories” that an expert pulls from the victim through hypnosis or some other form of psychological pseudoscience. Seeing such findings of fact by judges and juries, one wonders how a person could be so convinced of a spurious fact as to assess a legal penalty. Unfortunately, the answer is quite simple: We humans, being irrational, sometimes make irrational decisions.

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