“Scientific Inference” vs. “Legal Reasoning”?

On 14 March during a paper presentation by Professor Susan Haack from the University of Miami, The Hague Institute’s Senior Researcher Dr. Jill Coster van Voorhout acted as discussant. Professor Haack’s paper, which is based on a presentation at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and will be published in their journal Daedalus, is entitled: “Scientific Inference” vs. “Legal Reasoning”?–Not So Fast!

In this paper, Professor Susan Haack sets out several manifestations of the tensions between scientific and legal cultures, though admitting that she wrote “this remit from Prof. Lempert—to write a short paper about “different legal and scientific modes of thinking”— whilst feeling like a panicked examination candidate who’s just realized the question he has twenty minutes to answer would take at least a Ph.D. dissertation to handle adequately.”

As a discussant, Dr. Coster van Voorhout raised three issues. First, she elaborated on the “versus” mentioned in the title of this paper. She explained how she agreed with Professor Susan Haack that the existence of an antithesis between scientific and legal cultures should not just be assumed but critically assessed.

Second, upon the request of Professor Susan Haack, Dr. Coster van Voorhout touched upon the importance of the supposed common law-civil law difference. She called into question whether, on the issue of forensic evidence, there is such a difference between how civil law and common law countries assess forensic evidence. On the basis of several examples from theory and practice, she explained that this difference might no longer be significant as there have never been pure adversarial or inquisitorial proceedings and currently most processes are hybrid anyway. She drew from work in her papers for projects such as “From Fact-Finding to Evidence” and other research on accountability, courts and tribunals.

Third and finally, Dr. Coster van Voorhout concluded with a recommendation to the University of Amsterdam’s Paul Scholten Centre, which organized the research colloquium. Rather than focusing its legal education on legal qualifications of facts “only”, it would be helpful if law students would also learn about how such facts are actually established: the process of fact-finding.

Professor Susan Haack welcomed this suggestion, saying: “I could not agree more.”

Further Reading

Active: Fact-Finding in Lebanon

This three-year project, Fact-finding in Lebanon:  The Netherlands Support to Forensic Capability and Uptake in Lebanon, aims to ensure an integrated approach to forensics in…


Rule of Law

The Rule of Law Program fosters accountability and trust in societies in transition by supporting effective formal and informal justice institutions. The overarching goal…