1992 Rebel Without Cause

Rebel without a Cause

Rebel Without a Cause, 105 HARV. L. REV. 935-40 (1992) (reviewing Peter Huber’s Galileo’s Revenge:  Junk Science in the Courtroom).


History memorializes Galileo as a brilliant scientist silenced by the ruling religious orthodoxy for espousing the heresy of Copernicus. Such dogmatic repression of scientific discovery teaches that the gate-keepers of knowledge, entrenched in complacency, often fail to recognize genius and truth. But perhaps this lesson has been learned too well in the courtrooms of America. In modern tort litigation, for example, when lay judges and juries rely on expert testimony to decide complex scientific questions of causation, the legal system too readily honors fringe experts as modern-day Galileos and permits their dubious testimony to subvert the legal system’s pursuit of truth—or so warns Peter W. Huber in Galileo’s Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom.

Two rhetorically conflated but analytically distinct arguments run throughout Huber’s book. First, he decries the liberal standards of admission of expert testimony that have allowed “junk science”—the shadowy twin of real science, born from “data dredging, wishful thinking, truculent dogmatism, and, now and again, outright fraud” (p. 3)—to seep into the judicial forum. Second, Huber indirectly criticizes modern tort law’s doctrinal shift toward strict liability—a transformation advocated by academics such as Guido Calabresi—for relaxing evidentiary standards and thus inviting junk science into the courtroom. Huber’s first argument, which calls for evidentiary reform of expert testimony standards, is compelling, although his particular panacea, to trust “mainstream science,” seems simplistic. Huber’s second argument, which blames Calabresians for junk science’s havoc in the courtroom, not only mischaracterizes Calabresi’s theory, but also presumes that Calabresi endorses the proliferation of junk science.