Susan Haack makes a very interesting point in ‘Irreconcilable Differences? The Troubled Marriage of Science and Law. She makes many such points, but one in particular grabbed my attention.
Because of its adversarial character, the legal system tends to draw in as
witnesses scientists who are in a sense marginal – more willing than most of their
colleagues to give an opinion on the basis of less-than-overwhelming evidence;
moreover, the more often he serves as an expert witness, the more unbudgeably
confident a scientist may become in his opinion. An attorney obligated to make
the best possible case for his client will have an incentive to call on those
scientists who are ready to accept an answer to some scientific question as
warranted when others in the field still remain agnostic; and sometimes on
scientists whose involvement in litigation has hardened their initially morecautious
attitudes into unwarranted certainty.
That indicates that good working scientists must form habits of not forming beliefs in general when the evidence is inadequate. Most of us probably don’t form such habits. We’re more used to thinking we’re supposed to choose one way or another. Forming the habit of remaining agnositc when there isn’t enough evidence to decide is quite a good thing. Of course there are some forced choices – but there are also plenty of optional ones.