A liberal and critical blog by David Allen Green
I feel like there's an interesting comparison between the flaws in the legal attitude to truth and the scientific one.It seems like a comparison of nations with written and unwritten constitutions: The Law corresponds to a written constitution which is utterly objective, but flaws in the rules on which that objectivity is based can lead to serious problems. We want the objectivity to match our subjective judgement.Conversely, Science corresponds to the common law in which the underlying philosophy is well-understood, but the executive rules are not explicitly written - thus problems occur when unscrupulous individuals override the rules. We want the implicit subjectivity to match our objective judgment.This means that in Law we end up saying "hang on, that's not what we wanted the rules to mean" and in Science we end up saying "what do you mean he/she was lying?".Maybe this has been expressed previously, and better, but as an experienced, committed research scientist if am wondering if the ultimate solution to understanding the truth of the world must lie in reconciling the objective and subjective in both legal and scientific fora.
Charlie, I think I disagree that such a reconciliation is either desirable or possible. To my mind, legal cases are about "what happened". They relate to unique historical events, for which various means must be adopted to determine the actual course of events, as best they may be established. "The Law" is a construct which operates on these events, and attempts to reconcile rational and ethical principles, with more or less success.'Science', on the other hand, is about 'What happens'. Where there is doubt, there is little point in discussing 'what happened'. the arbiter is to do the experiment again. The construct that acts upon 'what happens' is also socially constructed, of course, but is different from that of law. it does not, for instance, include justice or morality.This is why scientific fraud, though real, is not particularly interesting to scientists. A case of fraud is 'what happened'. Science would merely repeat the experiment, to see 'what happens' and move on. 'What happened' is interesting as history, but not as science. So, reconciliation is hence, perhaps, neither possible, nor yet desirable. Chalk and cheese are more alike.
Thanks for your response to this. I need to spend a bit of time (which I don't currently have) developing a response. Briefly, though, your description of science is extremely abstract and the challenges to maintaining a scientific establishment where 'science would merely repeat the experiment' are huge. The waters of both justice and science are muddied by the deep convolution of evidence, dogma and interpretation. This is where the problem in uncovering an objective truth is, in my view, somewhat in common in both spheres.
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