Court Views Engineers as Scientists

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Science  02 Apr 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5411, pp. 21
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5411.21a

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When engineers seek to testify in court as expert witnesses, judges should hold them to the same standards as scientists, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week. The 23 March decision, in a case called Kumho v. Carmichael, says judges may disallow testimony from engineers that doesn't meet broad scientific standards for reliability. The ruling was applauded by the National Academy of Engineering and other organizations that had submitted briefs urging the high court to recognize the scientific basis of engineering. However, legal experts say that it leaves plenty of leeway--and uncertainty--in judging the validity of expert testimony in fields, including clinical medicine and forensics, that often rely on experience rather than scientific practices such as publication and peer review.