Science and Law
30th May 2014

Targeting and Identifying the Right Science for Your Case

Targeting and identifying the right science is first step in effective scientific information management. If you have a case involving complex scientific issues, this process is critical to your success.

Targeting and Identifying the Right Science for Your Case

Imagine that you are deposing or cross-examining a scientific expert and he challenges you with a scientific study that you have never heard of.  You’re thrown off guard.  Embarrassed.  It is every lawyer’s nightmare.

Targeting and identifying the right science is first step in effective scientific information management. If you have a case involving complex scientific issues, this process is critical to your success.

Avoiding information overload is crucial. As of the end of 2013, the National Library of Medicine had over 23 million records going back to 1966. About 500,000 new records are added each year, and this doesn’t even include journals that are not indexed by the National Library of Medicine.

Identifying and keeping up with all this information is clearly daunting, and it is critical that you find, within these massive amounts of literature, the studies that have a bearing on your litigation and the ones that will help ensure you build the best case.

In addition to published scientific literature, there is a host of other information that is important to monitor for its relevance to your litigation. This includes research grants, books, book chapters in edited compilations, scientific symposia and meetings, blog postings, even PhD dissertations. All of this information can hold valuable data and statements that you may be able to use offensively or defensively in your science-based litigation.

There are many tools to target and identify the right science. You know them: Google Scholar, PubMed, the Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science, EmBase, etc.. But the tools are only as good as the individual making the selections and if you don’t know what to look for, you can easily overlook something of importance, or waste your time on something that’s not really relevant. On the other hand, if you don’t whittle down the landscape, you can very quickly become overwhelmed and paralyzed with information overload.

One question we’re often asked is, “when do I use PubMed vs. Google Scholar?”

There are important differences between these tools, including the option to use specific search tags and field qualifiers in PubMed, but not Google Scholar (see our previous blog post on Why Pubmed Trumps Google Scholar). It is imperative that you take advantage of the benefits each tool offers and don’t get bogged down in their pitfalls.

It is also key that the individual conducting the searches be well-versed in science, and ideally, well-versed in the scientific subject-matter related to your litigation.

Over the years, we have found that deploying the right decision-maker helps dramatically in identifying the right science.

In our experience, way too many firms and legal teams rely on paralegals, young associates, and even partners to monitor the science. The problem with this is that often the more junior members of the team don’t have the appropriate context and deploying the senior members of the team for this task is overkill.

Having the right person distill the large body of literature to the core articles that matter goes a long way in helping a firm best help defend their client!

To summarize, it is crucial that you have a system in place to identify and find the key pieces of information that relate to your case.  Missing something could be devastating.  Ideally, the person heading up the search should be scientifically trained and well versed in the specific science related to your litigation.

In our next post in this series, we will be expanding upon the second step in the process of effective scientific information management: Alerting the team to relevant science so you can be sure everyone who needs it, is informed and fully up-to-speed.

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