Science, justice and (to some extent) politics share the basic assumption that fact-based truths about reality can be established through evidencing methods. Moreover, these processes are viewed as essential to these fields’ work, as they provide the basis upon which to act. How exactly ‘truth’ is established differs from field to field, and it is these specifics that experts draw their authority from in their interactions with other fields (e.g., rigor/objectivity in science; impartiality/procedures in the justice sector). Within each field, however, ways of knowing and questions of whether and how objective truth can be established are highly contested.
These disputes notwithstanding, there are high exchange levels of truth-seeking methods, findings and authorities across fields. E.g., the justice system draws on medical, psychology or neuroscience experts to give memory-related evidence in court, and UN Commissions of Inquiry use forensic expertise to reconstruct mass violence. These ‘borrowed truths’ may be problematic in two ways. First, they tend to be given undue weight because of the expert authority associated with them, while doubts and limits of each field’s ways of knowing are glossed over (e.g., neuroscience’s insights into false memory), with sometimes disastrous results (e.g., conviction based on wrong medical witness à see Sally Clark case). Second, since there are usually several experts competing over the truth about a problem, the decisions and judgments arrived at on the basis of ‘borrowed truths’ always carry the shadow of a doubt.
Collaborating closely with justice and policy practitioners, the team analysed practices of ‘borrowing truths’ at the science—justice—politics nexus in order to understand the limitations/distortions beleaguering transfers of expertise, raise awareness about their implications, and explore potential mitigation measures.
Dr Yvonne McDermott Rees
Yvonne McDermott Rees is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Bangor University, UK, where she is also Director of Teaching and Learning and Co-Director of the Bangor Centre for International Law. She is a graduate of the National University of Ireland, Galway (B. Corp. Law, LL.B.), Leiden University (LL.M. cum laude) and the Irish Centre for Human Rights (PhD). Her research interests include human rights, international criminal law, and criminal procedure. She is the author of Fairness in International Criminal Trials (Oxford University Press, 2016) and her most recent research examines the questions surrounding evidence and fact-finding in international criminal trials. Yvonne is Series Co-Editor of the University of Wales Press series in International Law, and an Academic Fellow of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. Website Email