Legally Wrong: When Courts and Science Meet with Nathan Schachtman

Episode #54

David Randall

Washington bureaucrats only make half of America's science policy. Judges, juries, and lawyers make the other through billion-dollar lawsuits decided in courts around the nation. Nathan A. Schachtman, whose work focuses on pharmaceutical and environmental cases, is one of the few lawyers who knows how science and statistics work in the courtroom—and what the legal and financial consequences are when the courts get their science wrong.

To discuss this, Nathan A. Schachtman joins Curriculum Vitae. In this episode, Nathan explains how the law changed to give judges and juries the responsibility to judge questions of scientific fact and statistical analysis—and how judges and juries too often base their decisions on bad science. He also discusses why the legal system needs to take account of the irreproducibility crisis in modern science and how lawyers use that crisis in the courtroom, sometimes to support shaky arguments with massive financial stakes. Finally, Nathan recommends major educational and legal reforms to make sure our judges and juries use reliable science and statistics.

Judges and juries are making science policy right now, by case and precedent. Nathan opens a window into this extraordinarily important world, and starts us thinking about what we can do to make sure our courts do the best possible job when they judge science and statistics.

If you’re interested in reading more of Nathan’s work, check out his blog (—where he writes informatively and entertainingly about science, statistics, and the law.

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