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An Interface between science and law: What is science for members of New Zealand's Environment Court?

This study investigates the interface between science and law with reference to models of science described by members of New Zealand's Environment Court. The aim of the research is to identify differences and consistencies between the members of the Court in the way that they articulate their understanding of science and of scientific evidence. This research also aims to locate those individual models of science within a wider philosophical discourse concerning the nature of science. The research adopts a qualitative and interpretive approach that focuses on understanding the detail of contextual interactions arising from interviews with eight Environment Judges and 13 Commissioners. The interview group comprised all of the judges of the Court during the research period (1999 - 2000) and all but one permanent Commissioner. The analysis of interviews show a wide range of views concerning the scope and nature of science. Criteria significant to each individual's model of science have been identified as a series of micro themes. Those micro themes differ between individuals as to the combinations of criteria significant when locating the boundary between science and non-science. The analysis of interviews also identifies three macro themes that describe whether and how individuals differentiate science, technology and expertise. That analysis identifies a group of interviewees, comprising both judges and commissioners, that equates science with expertise without distinction as to any knowledge component or process considerations. The analysis of interview responses adopts a boundary-work approach that identifies how individuals locate the boundary between science and non-science through their articulation of the micro themes significant to their model of science. The study contributes to the discourse concerning the relationship of science and law within modern society. That discourse commonly addresses the appropriate legal framework to assess questions involving scientific expertise and invariably describes the legal process and the role of expert and decision maker within that process. However, that discourse rarely articulates the meaning of the terms science, scientist, or technology, assuming that science is a self-evident concept, its meaning having universal application and acceptance. This research challenges that approach and identifies wide differences in the models of science held by individual decision makers and differences in their expectations of evidence from expert witnesses. Aside from the implications of the research results for the discourse concerning the relationship of science and law, this research also has practical implications for the evaluation of expert scientific evidence within an adversarial system of law, and for expert evidence before the Environment Court. Suggestions to improve communication both within the Court and between the Court and parties appearing before it are made with a view to identifying consistent and fair expectations of experts and their evidence.
Type of thesis
Forret, J. B. (2006). An Interface between science and law: What is science for members of New Zealand’s Environment Court? (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2667
The University of Waikato
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