Zoology in Court
Ecology on trial
Harry F. Recher, 1992. "Ecology on trial", Zoology in Court, Daniel Lunney
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*Department of Ecosystem Management, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351.
Ecology is not a precise science, and ideas and predictions based on ecological data are qualified and explained in the context of constantly changing and variable environments. This poses difficulties for the ecologist called to testify about the possible or probable effects of any given development proposal. Courtroom procedures create an environment in which it is difficult to give appropriately qualified answers to questions without appearing to contradict one’s own evidence or that of others. Being challenged as a witness during cross-examination and suffering the accompanying anger or embarrassment discourages many ecologists from testifying as experts. This reluctance to appear in court is based not only on the personal experience of ecologists, but is also a result of the way scientists are trained in Australian universities. In particular, the lack of appropriate training in the humanities, economics and the law is poor preparation for understanding and communicating with the rest of the community. Courts that deal with environmental issues require ecological data and the interpretation of those data by ecologists. If the courts want the best ecological expertise, they need to recognize the limitations of both ecological data and ecologists and adjust courtroom procedures to uncover all the data available and to encourage ecologists to appear as witnesses.