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Junk Science Alert #2 — Junk Science in the Courtroom

Junk science lemon 1754


A lot of junk science ends up in the courtroom, where people’s lives and liberty can hang in the balance.

For example, the notorious case of Cameron Todd Willingham involved specious “scientific evidence” that a fire at Willingham’s home which killed his three young daughters was an arson fire set by Willingham himself.

Some of the damning evidence included testimony that certain burn patterns in the home proved that an accelerant had been used to start the fire. There was no scientific literature supporting the theory behind the interpretation of burn patterns, it was merely a tradition handed down by generations of fire investigators.

Unfortunately, Willingham was executed in 2004.

For some interesting and disturbing reading on junk science in the courtroom, check out this article on blood spatter evidence, this one on dog scent evidence and this one about “crazed” glass as evidence of arson. The State of Texas appears to have a particularly hard time distinguishing real science from junk science. Maybe this new Texas law will prevent the execution of more Cameron Todd Willinghams.