This article is written by Abanti Bose, from Amity University Kolkata, India. This article talks about the complicated relationship between law, science, and technology and it also mentions how these disciplines are codependent on each other.
Law plays an essential part in the regulation of science and technology and concerning the ethical consequences of scientific research along with modern technologies. This field of law, science, and technology attempts to study systematically the diverse ways in which law interacts with science and technology. It has been defined as “the discipline that deals with how our legal system can and must adjust to accommodate the problems created by the ever more urgent and ubiquitous impact of technology on society.”
With the growth of the internet, technology, genomics, telecommunications, etc. legal scholars and law schools emphasized on the intersection of the law with science and technology. The United States Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Breyer stated, “scientific issues now permeate the law.” There has been immense growth in the study of law, science, and technology interactions including the incorporation of the subject in the syllabus, courses, journals, conferences, etc. Apart from this, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of scientific and technological developments amongst legal scholars and practitioners.
Relationship between science, technology, and law
Law and science have a complicated relationship. Science is the systematic approach that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Law, on the other hand, refers to the system of rules which have been laid down by the social institutions to regulate the actions of members and it may enforce such behaviour by the imposition of penalties. However, with the growth of scientific and technological advances, law, and science, the two disciplines became interdependent on each other. The legislature of various nations has laid down numerous laws to manage the impacts of science and technology on society. For example, in the era of the internet, the legislature has laid down laws and provisions which deal with cybercrimes. Law seeks to curb the impacts of science and technology which revolve around aspects such as risks, benefits, and ethical implications.
The judicial system also seeks to provide remedies to the aggrieved party that has been wronged due to the harmful implications of scientific and technological developments. Science on the flip side has aided the legal system with modern technologies such as polygraph tests, collection of evidence in a scientific manner, electronic recordings which can be used as evidence before the court, etc. Science also helps in the court proceedings with the admission of evidence, autopsy reports, etc. Therefore science and law are codependent on each other despite being two different disciplines in modern society with the advances in science and technology.
Effects of science and technology on law
- Science and technology have substantive as well as the procedural effect on the law. On the substantive side, new scientific evidence and methodology can change the course of legal claims and their outcomes, i.e. forensic science has opened new avenues in criminal law while creating a myriad of legal, ethical, and social issues.
- And on the procedural aspect of the law, it lays down how DNA samples should be collected and stored, how genetic information may be used, when are convicted criminals allowed to reopen their cases, etc.
- In the early twenty-first century, digital evidence has improved the quality and availability of trial evidence while raising concerns about tampering and fabricating digital pieces of evidence. This led to a massive change in the law.
Effects of law on science and technology
Law affects science and technology, individuals who have been aggrieved by scientific misconduct tries to seek judicial remedies. Advocates have even served non-party subpoenas on scientists who are doing research potentially pertinent to the lawsuit. This exposes the scientists to intrusive searches and they often have to disclose before the court about their research activities. Legislature also subjects scientists to new legal requirements, for example when any scientific project is based on government funding then it is important to take required legal steps to ensure absolute protection of the scientists and the general public. In 2000, the United States Congress enacted the Data Quality Act which imposes a series of substantive and procedural requirements on scientific methodology. These developments indicate a trend of growing legal intrusion on science and technology.
Division of the field into three primary standards
Despite the growing interests and awareness that states science and technology present a unique angle of law; different formulations exist for examining the law, science, and technology. There exist three primary standards of the division of the field.
- The first concerns the role of the law in managing the impacts of science and technology which includes controlling the risks, promoting the benefits, and addressing ethical implications.
- Secondly, the institutions of law and science examine how the law affects the practice of scientific research as well as the reciprocal relationship that determines how science and technology influence the law.
- The third standard involves a more general inquiry into the problems and tensions which emerge from the intersection of law with science and technology.
The critical role played by law in managing the impacts of science and technology
Law plays a crucial role in managing the impacts of science and technology on society. Law seeks to curb the impacts of science and technology which revolve around aspects such as risks, benefits, and ethical implications.
Controlling risks of modern scientific technologies
The law is the principal societal institution for controlling these risks through the legislature and the judiciary. Risk regulation involves two key aspects of scientific and legal interaction. Firstly, the part played by law in regulating risks from science and technology and secondly, the use of science by law to assess risk from new and existing technologies. The parliament of different nations tries to reduce risk before it imposes a greater threat to society. Most industrialized nations have comprehensive statutory or regulatory programmes which try to reduce potential risks from technologies such as industrial chemicals, pesticides, natural resource extraction, pharmaceutical, etc. These legislations predict potential harms and attempts to curb that.
Apart from major legislations law also tries to prevent risks through litigation and liability. Individuals who have been injured by technologies may bring tort or product liability lawsuits seeking compensation and science, on the other hand, plays the critical role of providing evidence of such cases.
In a leading case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., it was stated by the court that federal courts are required to perform a gatekeeping function to affirm that scientific testimony is relevant and reliable before it can be admitted. This judgment has involved judges being proactive and knowledgeable in screening prospective scientific testimony and has also stimulated scientific organizations to seek and educate judges and also provide experts to aid in the proceedings which involve science and technology.
Benefits of new technologies
The law also plays an essential role in the development of innovation and promoting technologies through legal doctrines and mechanisms. The most important aspect relates to intellectual property, by which the law gives the investors and creators a time-limited exclusive right to commercially exploit the output of the work of their workers. The main objective of protecting intellectual property is to promote innovation, by giving researchers, and authors economic incentives which will aid them to create new inventions and works. New technologies cause fundamental challenges to traditional doctrines.
For example, digital information might not be adequately protected by old traditional laws and it requires the copyright owner to bring a lawsuit alleging infringement. Because unlimited copies can be made by simply uploading material on the internet and thereafter, legislatures and courts have extended more copyright protection for digital data.
There also exist challenges in adapting patent law to genetic discoveries. Patenting genes have raised numerous scientific, legal, ethical, and practical complexities that established patent law is not equipped to address. Such as the traditional distinction between non-patentable products and patentable inventions and discoveries has been dimmed by technology.
Ethical implications of technology
The law also seeks to resolve the ethical implications of technology on the society which arise due to modern inventions. Society heavily relies on legislatures and courts to develop and apply appropriate legal principles. The law attempts to resolve moral issues in a socially acceptable manner. In various cases, courts have considered their authority while giving a decision in ethical aspects of controversial technological developments. Even when courts exclude ethical considerations they often remain the primary reason for litigation which is fought before the court in socio-legal grounds.
Legal v. scientific standards
A heated debate topic in the field of law, science, and technology states whether the law should apply scientific standards and methods of proof, or apply its standards to scientific evidence. An example is the concept of statistical significance, where the standard scientific convention is that a result will be considered statistically significant if the probability of the result being observed by chance alone is less than five percent. Legal experts argue that law should apply a more lenient standard in cases of civil litigation where the standard of proof is predominant of the evidence.
However, it is essential for the court to understand scientific methodologies while deciding on cases that involve science and technology. In the case, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the United States Supreme Court held that courts must guarantee that scientific testimony must have grounding methods of science and procedures which have derived from scientific methods.
New technologies v. old laws
Another issue on this aspect is whether new technologies require new legal frameworks or whether they can work within the ambit of old laws. This could be answered by the incorporation of eminent legislation in the legal framework of the society which addresses issues on the internet such as privacy, copyright, etc. These issues also arise in other technological contexts. Existing laws have generally been applied in the United States, while new enactments have been promulgated in Europe and other jurisdictions.
One of the examples; is patent law, where to date existing rules have been applied even in the case of new technologies in genes and other biomedical discoveries.
Some of the legal luminaries have argued that new laws, in particular new approaches that move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of current law, are needed to provide optimal patent protection for certain new and emerging technologies.
Challenges faced by law in the field of science and technology
In modern society, science and technology are developing rapidly. One of the examples of such development is Moore’s Law, which predicts that the number of transistors on microchips will double every two years. The law, on the contrary, is less dynamic in nature as it has to go through a technical statutory process in order to keep up with the scientific developments. Statutes can easily become outdated and case laws are also slow to adapt to the scientific and technological developments due to the binding effect of past precedents. Therefore, it results in the law being based on outdated scientific assumptions or fails to adapt to recent scientific and technological knowledge. It is essential for the law to adapt to advancing science and technology and incorporate adaptive legal regimes to keep up with science and technology.
Law and science are codependent on each other despite being different disciplines. Law interacts with science and technology on different levels and diverse ways. These interactions proliferate in the future with advancing technologies that present risks, benefits, and ethical implications on society. The field of law, science, and technology attempt to bridge the gap between these two fields of study and also tries to tackle the challenges faced by law, science, and technology. It also seeks to provide a systematic treatment of the actions and problems that would eventually help these subjects evolve in parallel and at pace with subject matter.
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