Galileo's Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom

By Peter W. Huber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Paranoia Plebiscite
The Legal Pursuit of Fad Terrors

The theories and dogmas of scientific men, though provable by scientific reference, cannot be held to be controlling unless shared by the people generally.

-- Everett v. Paschall ( 1910)

Ella Bowley's baby was born quite healthy and unblemished. But for four months the pregnant mother had been intensely worried that her latest child would be "deformed or marked." About halfway through her pregnancy she had gone on a car ride with her husband to buy some groceries and to "give the children an airing." 1 Mr. Rowley had run into another car. And Mrs. Bowley, like many pregnant women of the 1920s, believed that trauma during pregnancy caused birthmarks on the unborn infant. She sued, demanding compensation for her months of worry. A defense expert dismissed the birthmark theory as "scientifically unsound." But science was irrelevant, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 1923. It simply didn't matter that had Mrs. Bowley "been thoroughly versed in medical science she would have known that her fears were groundless."

Other courts took quite a different view. 2 Fear, anxiety, worry, and such might be compensated, but only within bounds established by solid science. Even an indisputably real injury would

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