Edmond, Gary, Judging Scientific & Medical Literature – Legal Implications

Judging the Scientific and Medical Literature: Some Legal Implication of Changes to Biomedical Research and Publication

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 2008
Dr Gary Edmund, BA(Hons), LLB(Hons) PhD

Over the last two decades judges (and regulators) in all common law jurisdictions have increased their reliance on published medical and scientific literature. During the same period biomedical research has undergone fundamental and unprecedented change. This article explores some of the changes to the location, organisation and funding of biomedical research in order to assess their implications for liability and proof.

Focussing on peer review and publication, along with reforms promoted by the editors of some of the world’s pre-eminent general medical journals (e.g. British Medical Journal, the Lancet, Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine), this article considers how judges might respond to recent findings which suggest that corporate sponsorship systematically biases biomedical research.

Given that common law judges have been reforming rules of evidence and procedure in search of impartial expertise and privileging published biomedical research, how should they response to the strategic manipulation of the scientific record?

…there is something rotten in the state of scientific publishing and… we need radical reform. The problem with peer review is that we have good evidence of its deficiencies and poor evidence of its benefits. We know that it is expensive, slow, prone to bias, open to abuse, possibly anti-innovatory and unable to detect fraud. We also know that the pubished papers that emerge from the process are often grossly deficient.

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