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Conflict Between the Goals of Social Science and Law: What Can Psychologists Really Contribute?

Ralph Scott


Published: 2004/12/01


In recent years there has been increasing evidence that, in the sensitive domain of race, expert witnesses have failed to provide balanced and useful information to representatives of the two institutions upon which social policy formulations are often dependent, law and social science. This paper examines judicial expectations of expert witnesses, the refusal of some of the nation's most knowledgeable authorities to testify on culturally sensitive racial issues, court rulings based on conventionalized and misleading testimony, and loss of public trust in social science, the law, and the courts. Faulty social science presented to the Supreme Court in the historic school desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) is reviewed in the context of coercion of social scientists whose research had indicated the salient role of biophysical and ecological forces on the course of human development. Ongoing fear of academics to testify objectively for fear of personal and professional damage is examined and a contemporary case vignette presented. Finally, it is suggested that failure of representatives of the legal profession to restrain inappropriate cross-examination restricts the informational spectrum available to decision makers charged with ruling on broad societal issues.