science and law

Jurors in California have awarded $289 million to a man who claimed that his cancer was due to Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate, even though that is biologically impossible. Even the judge acknowledged that there was no evidence of harm. Yet, trial lawyers manipulated a jury’s emotions and the public’s misunderstanding of science to score another jackpot verdict.

The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, claims that glyphosate gave him non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that occurs when the immune system goes awry. There are three major problems with this claim.

First, as stated above, glyphosate does not cause cancer because it does not harm humans. It is an herbicide, so it is only toxic to plants. There is no known biological mechanism by which glyphosate could cause cancer,...

European Court of Justice

Europeans are a scientific mess in 2018.

The home of the Enlightenment and Humanism is desperately trying to claim rationality about food, energy, and medicine while embracing nature-based mysticism and using wedge politics to get their way. They think America is too religious but have their own new theism; a "Frankenfood" Devil and the Resurrection of the anti-vaccination movement. They claim concern about energy emissions but buy energy from fossil fuel plants in the former USSR. They pretend to buy organic food because Russia claims it is and don't do the inconvenient math to know that's impossible.

And that maddening hypocrisy is being reflected in their courts.1

Europeans, who overwhelmingly claim to accept the science consensus on climate change,...

Americans love to sue people.

Each year, we file about 5,800 lawsuits per 100,000 people. To put that figure into context, America's lawsuit rate is higher than Canada (by 4 times), Australia (3.8x), Japan (3.3x), France (2.4x), and the UK (1.6x). We're a lawsuit-happy nation.

What do we sue over? Well, anything really. A former judge sued a dry cleaner for $54 million over a missing pair of pants. Although he lost the lawsuit, the financial hardship and stress of being sued caused the dry cleaners to close the store. Simply put,...

California has given up all pretense of being a state governed by reason or common sense: Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled that coffee must carry a cancer warning label. The judge’s ruling is scientifically illiterate.

Coffee has been consumed widely since about the 1600’s without any apparent ill effects. Therefore, the scientific burden of proof is on those who say that coffee is dangerous.

Instead, the lawsuit has turned science upside-down by requiring coffee companies to prove that their product isn’t unsafe. That is absurd, not only because it violates 400 years of common sense about coffee, but because it is impossible to prove a negative. Science also cannot prove that ghosts aren’t real. Perhaps all California residences should carry a...

The war on science has at least three fronts.

First, there is the widely reported political war on science, widely and erroneously believed to be waged exclusively by conservatives, when in reality, progressives are just as eager to throw science under the bus when it suits their agenda. (ACSH President Hank Campbell and I wrote an entire book about this topic, called Science Left Behind.) As a general rule, when science and political activists clash, the activists usually win.

Second, there is the legal war on science, in which unscrupulous lawyers use scientific uncertainty against science to score jackpot verdicts and settlements. All a lawyer has...

A judge in California is going to determine whether or not coffee causes cancer.

Think about that. We live in a society where judges and lawyers -- not medical doctors, scientists, or even a group of really clever AP biology high school students -- get to determine the credibility of biomedical research. The stakes are high: If coffee is deemed carcinogenic, then the State of California will be required to give up all pretense at common sense and sanity.

To give just a small flavor of the level of insanity California has reached, attorney Raphael Metzger and his group's trial lawyer NGO Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT - founded by U.C. Berkeley Professor Martyn...

Scientists and lawyers do not get along. There's a reason for that. Simply put, scientists and lawyers do not think alike.

I was smacked in the face by this reality when I was called into jury duty in 2011. The case involved a car accident, and the standard in Washington State for the jury to decide in favor of the plaintiff is a "preponderance of evidence," which is a fancy way of saying, "51 percent." Essentially, a coin toss decides if the plaintiff wins a bunch of money.

The judge asked if any of the potential jurors objected to that. I did. "I'm a scientist," I explained, "and I need more evidence than that." So, I was shown the door.*

That experience...

ACSH has been around since 1978 but I doubt we have ever seen anything like this before.

Climate scientist Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University has sued the National Academy of Sciences, which publishes the prestigious journal PNAS, for publishing an article that disagreed with him. The lawsuit claims that Dr. Jacobson was libeled and slandered. He is suing to get the journal to retract the article.

For his hurt feelings and bruised ego, he also wants a big bag of money, $10 million to be precise.

To say that this is...

When Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist, shook down Pacific Gas & Electric for $333 million for allegedly poisoning a community with hexavalent chromium and causing cancer and all sorts of other health problems, Julia Roberts portrayed the protagonist in a sensationalized blockbuster movie. It is unlikely, however, that Hollywood will be filming a sequel.

Why? Because not only was Ms. Brockovich wrong, but the State of California has now partially repudiated what she fought for.

Erin Brockovich, Junk Scientist

We've known for a long time that Ms. Brockovich used junk science to score a jackpot settlement. She used a common rhetorical trick, known as the Texas...