WSJ Op-ed on State Courts and Daubert:

As noted previously, my op-ed on this topic appeared in the Wall Street Journal Saturday. Since there is no free link, I'm reprinting it below, with permission.

Rule of Law Quackspertise By David E. Bernstein 30 September 2006 The Wall Street Journal A9

A recent decision by a New York court is a stark reminder that, despite far-reaching reforms, junk science still plagues American courtrooms.

The case, Nonnon v. City of New York, involves a group of plaintiffs claiming that exposure to toxic substances in New York City's Pelham Bay landfill caused their cancers. They presented no study to the trial court showing that any substance found in the landfill causes their types of cancer; and the testimony of their expert witnesses was speculative and based on a single methodologically deficient study. When one of these experts was challenged, he "persisted in providing insufficient information about his methods and incomplete information about his analysis," wrote two judges of the intermediate-level appellate division. His conclusions were at odds with the conclusion of the city's expert, who used "explicit, detailed, generally accepted methods."

Should the trial judge have approved this dodgy testimony? The two judges quoted above said no, but were outvoted by three colleagues in June. New York has a rule for excluding unsound scientific evidence, but the majority troika refused to apply it — on the question-begging grounds that it would deprive plaintiffs "suffering the ill effects . . . of environmental contaminants" from obtaining compensation.

The outcome would likely have been different had the suit been brought in federal court. That's because cases based on the sorts of "quackspertise" that once led to multimillion dollar payouts for trial lawyers — claims that breast implants cause immune-system disease, power lines cause leukemia, vaccines cause autism, and the like — now routinely get dismissed before trial. The reason is a strict reliability test for expert testimony first announced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1993 case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. But Daubert's reliability test, codified in Federal Rule of Evidence 702, only governs federal trials.

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