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September 13, 2016

Science Rules! Missouri Legislature to Vote on Veto Override of Bill Establishing Scientific Standards for Expert Testimony

This Wednesday, the Missouri Legislature will vote on overriding Governor Nixon’s veto of a bill that would make sure scientific evidence and testimony presented in the courtroom is truly expert.

Science and scientific experts are often the pivotal evidence in cases to help interpret facts and testimony, but admissibility of such evidence can vary by state. Today, 40 states and the federal court system use the Daubert standard for expert evidence.  This standard requires that an expert witness’s testimony be based upon general scientific principles. Daubert requires evidence be relevant, reliable, and based upon study methods generally accepted by the scientific community. 

These are the same basic rules we learned for forming hypotheses, conducting tests, and stating conclusions going all the way back to grade school science courses. 

But without the Daubert standard to guide judges in determining if an expert witness’s testimony is reliable, junk science can be presented in the courtroom.  This is bad for Missourians and bad for Missouri businesses.

St. Louis courts are known for “litigation tourism,” where outside litigants find a way to tie their case to Missouri in order to bring the lawsuit there.  Among other factors, having lower standards for expert evidence plays into the appeal of Missouri courts. Should Missouri have to put up with lower standards that encourage litigants from other states?

Unreliable standards for scientific evidence in the courtroom could also factor into whether or not businesses want to do business in the Show-Me State. In the 2015 Harris survey of state litigation climates, Missouri ranked 42rd out of 50 overall.  The state ranked 43rd for the treatment of scientific and technical evidence in the courtroom – a 16 spot drop from just three years ago. 

Furthermore, 75 percent of the senior litigators and executives surveyed in the Harris study said that a state’s lawsuit climate is likely to affect the decisions they make for their business.

The Daubert standard ensures that litigants get the benefit of sound science. Missourians deserve scientific standards that would at least pass the test in any 6th grade science fair. The Missouri Legislature voted in favor of this bill once, and they should override Governor Nixon’s veto and do it again.  

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