…as exclaimed by counsel – a “wordsmith”, in referring to the practice of law. We were on site where I was taking a briefing on a problem as experienced by the property owner.
To which I might have added in referring to the practice of engineering, “Numbers! Numbers! Numbers!
The exchange reminded me of a paper I read a few years ago entitled, “The Fundamental Differences Between Science and Law”. It was written by Robert A. Bohrer, both a professor and a practitioner of law.
The paper appeared in the book, “Expert Witnessing: Explaining and Understanding Science” (Ref. 1). It’s a very good read, one of the better texts on forensic work that I’ve seen. You’re certain to find it interesting
The book was written for “…scientists, engineers, physicians, judges, litigators and those who work in contact with the courts”. It was in response to the “…notorious communication problems between science and the courts” as recognized by both. The book contains papers from 14 noted authors from all walks of life in science, applied science, and law.
In his paper, Professor Bohrer attempts to describe the difficulty of incorporating science into legal decision making. He does this by describing the three basic differences between the world of science and the world of law:
- Science is digital, replicable/general, and objective/universal;
- Law is analogical, unpredictable/particular, and normative/contingent.
I won’t attempt to précis the paper but “digital” resonates with me – like in “numbers”. Engineers measure and quantify things with numbers and use numerical methods to analyse the cause of failures and accidents.
If you can measure it you can manage it. (Ref. 2) And you can measure most things in some way or another. Including cost control in civil litigation. (Ref. 3)
At its most basic an engineer might simply “take the measure” of something with an experienced eye – and a tape measure would be nowhere in sight. But not often because we like to measure and test things.
The importance of measurement in science and engineering is echoed in a number of papers in the book. One on epidemiology recognizes that, “The concepts of measurement and uncertainty, of error and of chance are fundamental to science”.
“Objective” in the differences above also jumps out at me, as required of experts by Nova Scotia civil procedure Rule 55. The word does conjure up the idea of measuring and testing (Ref. 4) but also more abstract concepts best described by words and wordsmiths. As such, it’s perhaps a tiny bridge over the communication problems between science and the courts.
- Meyer, Carl, ed, Expert Witnessing: Explaining and Understanding Science, CRC Press LLC 1999
- Personal communication, Osmond, Jack, Affinity Contracting, Halifax
- A bundle of blogs: A civil litigation resource list on how to use forensic engineering experts. Posted November 20, 2013 http://www.ericjorden.com/blog/2013/11/20/a-bundle-of-blogs-a-civil-litigation-resource-list-on-how-to-use-forensic-engineering-experts/
- Using SOAP notes in forensic engineering investigation. Posted February 6, 2014