Junk science

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Junk science is a term used in U.S. political and legal disputes that brands an advocate's claims about scientific data, research, or analyses as spurious. The term may convey a pejorative connotation that the advocate is driven by political, ideological, financial, or other unscientific motives.

The term was first used in relation to expert testimony in civil litigation.[citation needed] More recently, it has been used to criticize research on the harmful environmental or public health effects of corporate activities, and occasionally in response to such criticism. "Junk science" is often counterposed to "sound science", a term used to describe studies that favor the accuser's point of view.[1] These terms have been particularly promoted by Steven Milloy and the Advancement of Sound Science Center. It is the role of political interests which distinguishes debate over junk science from discussions of pseudoscience and controversial science.


Contents

History

The phrase "junk science" appears to have been in use prior to 1985. A 1985 United States Department of Justice report by the Tort Policy Working Group noted: 'The use of such invalid scientific evidence (commonly referred to as "junk science") has resulted in findings of causation which simply cannot be justified or understood from the standpoint of the current state of credible scientific or medical knowledge.'[2] In 1989, Jerry Mahlman (a proponent of anthropogenic global warming theory) used the phrase 'noisy junk science' in reference to the alternative theory of global warming due to solar variation presented in Scientific Perspectives on the Greenhouse Problem by Frederick Seitz et al.[3]

Peter W. Huber presented an exposition of the phrase with respect to litigation in his 1991 book Galileo's Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom. The book has been cited in over 100 legal textbooks and references; as a consequence some sources cite Huber as the first to coin the phrase. By 1997, the phrase had entered the legal lexicon as seen in an opinion by Supreme Court of the United States Justice John Paul Stevens, 'An example of "junk science" that should be excluded under the Daubert standard as too unreliable would be the testimony of a phrenologist who would purport to prove a defendant’s future dangerousness based on the contours of the defendant’s skull.' [4] Lower courts then set guidelines for identifying 'junk science,' such as the 2005 opinion of United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Easterbrook, 'Positive reports about magnetic water treatment are not replicable; this plus the lack of a physical explanation for any effects are hallmarks of junk science.' [5]

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