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Rethinking the Threats to Scientific Balance in Contexts of Litigation and Regulation


BACKGROUND: Although existing literature does discuss difficulties of doing science in contexts of litigation and regulation, work to date reflects little first-hand experience in such contexts. This gap is understandable but also potentially troubling: Concerns that seem important from afar may or may not match those that are most salient for scientists actually engaged in such work.

OBJECTIVES: Drawing on experience on scientific committees and in lawsuits, and using skills developed through doing qualitative fieldwork, I reanalyze past experiences and field notes from the perspective of the 2006 Coronado Conference "Truth and Advocacy in Contexts of Litigation and Regulation." Although I initially shared the kinds of concerns generally stressed by other scientists and science-studies scholars-emphasizing overt, relatively sinister efforts to limit scientific objectivity-neither the literature nor my initial instincts provided adequate preparation for more subtle influences, which actually created stronger pressures toward bias. Particularly unexpected pressures came from consistent deference and praise for independence and credibility.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: The cases discussed in this article are by nature suggestive, not definitive; additional research is dearly needed. Future research, however, needs to focus not just on pressures toward bias that are easy to imagine, but also on those that are easy to overlook.

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