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Expert Testimony in Historical Perspective

NCJ Number
Law and Human Behavior Volume: 10 Issue: 1-2 Dated: (June 1986) Pages: 15-27
R Kargon
Date Published
13 pages
The historical development of expert scientific testimony during the last 250 years and the ethical issues surrounding it are discussed.
The ethical problems related to expert testimony have depended directly on the historically specific relationship between science and scientists on the one hand and society on the other. When modern experimental science was beginning to emerge in the 17th century, it drew upon legal experience to bolster its methodological arguments. In the 18th century, after the successes of Sir Isaac Newtown, science gained in authority. Even in law courts, the epistimological authority of science was not challenged. The more empirical sciences like chemistry and physics entered the courts in the 19th century. Juries found the testimony of experimental chemists and physicists useful for their decisions. Experimental psychology entered the courts in the 20th century. Hugo Munsterburg pushed the use of experimental psychology in the courtroom, because he viewed legal recognition as a way of advancing psychology as a scientific profession. He published 'On the Witness Stand,' a book of essays, to encourage public pressure for the use of experimental psychology in court cases. The ethical problems raised by the introduction of experimental psychology in the courtroom are still matters of controversy. 18 references. (Author abstract modified)