I'm a little angry at the way some law students (and, often, the public at large) view scientific research with regard to validity, evidence, etc. We were specifically discussing the sociological research cited in Brown v. Board of Ed regarding the (detrimental) effects of segregation on both black and white children. Our professor was of the opinion that the court would've done well to just skip the scientific stuff and be more blunt, i.e. "school segregation is legally and morally wrong, no ifs ands or buts". I would've been fine with that opinion, certainly the era would've benefited from a judicial decree of that nature. However, did it hurt the opinion? Talking to our professor after class, a student said something to the effect of "well, they shouldn't have used them, you can get studies to say anything, it's all bullshit". I'm sorry, what? Maybe I'm just a sore "soft" sciences major (with a B.A. in Psychology, yes), but come on! Sure, there are investigator biases, sketchy funding, organizations which pick and choose which studies to continue and publish, but there's also peer review, meta-analyses, journals, a real desire to investigate troubling issues and draw conclusions, if not find some answers.
So I'm pretty wary of the "it's all partisan politics" argument used to dismiss scientific research. Despite my aforementioned reservations, I frankly find this way of thinking anti-intellectual. If all science is futile, why bother doing anything? Or is it just social science? I realize mental and emotional response is harder to quantify than, say, velocity or combustion temperature, but, if anything, that should provide a driving impetus to do even more rigorous research, design studies more carefully, have more than one researcher, and so forth. Are we to abandon any search for answers about interpersonal relationships, motivation, sexual response, anger, language development? Because if studies cannot be used in a somewhat minimal role as a contributing (not even deciding) factor in a court of law, what respect are we according them? Certainly they ought to have more purpose than providing topics for water cooler discussions or partially digested interpretations on the morning news. If we have any faith in the scientific method, shouldn't we put our money where our proverbial mouth is?
Am I just a hopeless idealist about this? I'd like to think not, after all, we are spending millions on this research, and I would hate it if it were all for naught.