Relations between science and law

This lack of local Israeli personal and professional interaction notwithstanding, globally the fields of law and science are trending toward even greater levels of intersection and integration.

December 3, 2016 19:43
3 minute read.

IDC . (photo credit: IDC)

Israel has one of the highest concentrations of scientists and engineers per capita in the world, churning out more than our fair share of scientific publications, patent applications and innovative technologies.

We also have one of the highest per capita rates of lawyers on the planet. Most of us, however, would not think it strange that the two fields rarely interact professionally.

This lack of local Israeli personal and professional interaction notwithstanding, globally the fields of law and science are trending toward even greater levels of intersection and integration.

In their respective practices, scientists and engineers are confronting a growing number of legal issues arising out of their research, and litigators are seeing more instances of complex scientific matters in their work, or are even employing innovative science and technology in their practice of law.

Nevertheless, scientists may not be fully cognizant of the multitude of relevant legal issues and concerns associated with their research and its applications, and the lawyers who may eventually regulate or even employ this science and its applications in the course of their legal practice may not appreciate the exact limitations and strengths of the science.

While science’s emphasis on progress – accentuated by a drive toward a greater knowledge and understanding of nature – and the law’s emphasis on process may seem initially incongruous, law and science actually share many mutual and compatible interests. Both fields seek reliable knowledge – facts and truths – through ostensibly apolitical and impartial means. Both practicing scientists and their lawyer counterparts use highly structured and often formulaic documents to communicate with their peers, and both law and science use standard and consistent mechanisms and methodologies to arrive at workable conclusions and solutions.

Nevertheless, in spite of a growing overlap between the two fields, law schools worldwide are seeing fewer applicants with scientific backgrounds, and many scientists do not appreciate the need to engage with their social science colleagues.

This is unfortunate and should be disconcerting to readers who are bombarded nearly daily with innovative science and technology seemingly run amok, racing ahead of any relevant legal and regulatory oversight.

They should also be concerned about the growing use of science and technology in the courts by legal practitioners that may not have a complete grasp of the metes and bounds of the technologies employed.

Unfortunately, with fewer individuals bridging the gap between science and law, the ability for current scientists to effectively communicate with the legal community, and vice versa, becomes all the more important, and the communication gap between scientists and lawyers, exacerbated by their respective nearly impenetrable jargon (at least to the uninitiated), becomes all the more relevant.

This growing communication divide is not limited to just the practical concerns of business management, intellectual property litigation or patent licensing and prosecution; there may be significant policy implications as well. Lawyers make up a disproportionate share of legislators and administrators both here and abroad, and are almost always tasked with writing the statutes or regulations that implement science policy decisions.

Thus, debates over contested science policy issues such as genetically modified organisms, global warming, genetic engineering, embryonic stem cells, and even seemingly more mundane issues relating to the Internet of things, virtual reality and autonomous vehicles, may be somewhat assuaged if scientists, technologists and lawyer-cum-policymakers could effectively communicate.

Efforts such as the Atara Kaufman Conference series in Law Science & Technology, which will take place at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya on December 5-6, are useful starts. With laudatory, albeit difficult goals of fostering open and regular dialogue between scientists and lawyers through roping them in together for short informative conferences, these and other efforts could nurture ongoing and fruitful interactions. In such a small country it is likely that the impressive numbers of scientists and lawyers will eventually bump into each other. It would be great if they had shared professional interests that they could talk about.

The author is director of the Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies at IDC Herzliya.

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