The Corner

Law & the Courts

The Scientific Method Is a Method, Not an Imprimatur

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 5, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The New York Times has a story on Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser this morning that features the following line:

Supporters of Dr. Blasey, 51, describe her as a precise, logical scientific thinker; a community leader; a woman of integrity; and a devoted mother of two boys.

“Her life’s work is about telling the truth with science,” said Kate Beebe DeVarney, a behavioral neuroscientist who has worked with Dr. Blasey in Silicon Valley. “Christine doesn’t get stuff wrong. She’s obsessive about making sure it’s right,” she added. “If Christine says something happened, I absolutely believe her.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s profile yesterday echoed this sentiment.

This characterization is being used by some as a reason to believe Dr. Blasey’s accusation without further investigation — and, more specifically, as a means by which to justify her decision (thus far) not to testify on Monday. But this is entirely backwards. If, as I’m sure she is, Dr. Blasey is a “precise, logical scientific thinker”; if “her life’s work is about telling the truth with science”; and if “she’s obsessive about making sure it’s right,” then she will understand better than most why cross-examination is so crucial in situations such as this. Scientists develop hypotheses and then rigorously investigate them. They do not merely print their theories and expect to be deemed correct by their peers. It is an absurd non sequitur to follow a bunch of praise about how exacting and tenacious a scientific thinker a person is with an assertion such as, “If Christine says something happened, I absolutely believe her.” We admire scientists not because they are Übermensch who have been imbued with special, irrefutable knowledge, but because they conform to a set of processes that help us arrive at the truth. To lionize those processes while seeking to circumvent them is preposterous.

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