Statistics, Law, and Expert Testimony

  • Stephen E. Fienberg


The preceding two chapters reveal tensions between law and statistics that pose special problems for the judicial system and for those who must integrate statistical learning into the legal process. While neither statistics nor law assumes that decisions must rest on absolute certainty, we saw that courts seek certainty, not so much in their formal decision rules, as in the way they actually reach decisions in practice. In part this may be because our own system evolved from earlier forms that were premised on “certainty.” Most conspicuously, trial by ordeal suggested that divine intervention would guarantee a correct answer to the factual question involved. This attitude was linked to notions of certainty shared by both science and the legal system, captured in the common use of the term law to describe both observed invariance and prescribed injunctions for behavior. Both science and law have undergone enormous changes in perception, moving toward more complex and conjectural understandings in both fields. But they have not moved in tandem. They operate sometimes in agreement and sometimes with different aims of prediction and control.


Statistical Assessment Statistical Evidence Statistical Concept Legal Process Expert Testimony 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen E. Fienberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of StatisticsCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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