An infrastructural account of scientific objectivity for legal contexts and bloodstain pattern analysis

Science in Context 34 (1):101-119 (2021)
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ArgumentIn the United States, scientific knowledge is brought before the courts by way of testimony – the testimony of scientific experts. We argue that this expertise is best understoodfirstas related to the quality of the underlying scienceand thenin terms of who delivers it. Bloodstain pattern analysis (BPA), a contemporary forensic science, serves as the vaulting point for our exploration of objectivity as a metric for the quality of a science in judicial contexts. We argue that BPA fails to meet the minimal standard set by Helen Longino’s social-procedural account of objectivity (1990, 2002). In light of some pressing issues for social-procedural accounts, we offer an infrastructural account of objectivity. This account offers what amounts to a friendly amendment to Longino’s account and adds to the ways in which we might analyze social-procedural objectivity. Finally, we address an issue that is pressing in the legal context: given that scientific knowledge is delivered by individuals, not communities, at least in U.S. courts, we (may) need a way to evaluate individual scientific and epistemic agents. We suggest a means for making this evaluation that is derived from our infrastructural account of objectivity.

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W. John Koolage
Eastern Michigan University


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