Assistant Professor

York University

School of Public Policy and Administration

Research Interests

Courts are often asked to make determinations as to the validity of scientific evidence, yet they lack the specialized expertise and general scientific knowledge possessed by scientists, making it difficult for them to make appropriate admissibility decisions about scientific evidence. My work has focused on this problem and in particular on the difficulties involved in making admissibility decisions about science and  forensic science in criminal trials.

Many solutions to the problem of making valid admissibility decisions have been proposed.  Some solutions are problematic because they impose on scientific experts notions of science that do not accurately reflect scientific practice, yet other solutions seem to lack any coherent notion of science. These approaches characterize this sort of courtroom decision-making as legal decision-making about science. My work suggests that courtroom decisions about science are better characterized as scientific decision-making and the problem is re-envisaged as a problem of scientific evaluation in a legal setting. This change has consequences for both our understanding of how courts currently evaluate scientific expertise and for future law reform in this area. By approaching scientific evidence in this way we can begin to apply to these courtroom decisions a body of empirical research and well-developed theory coming from the field of science and technology studies that is devoted in part to understanding how scientists understand and evaluate each other's work.

My work has involved applying this approach to a series of case studies in the area of criminal forensics, including case studies of fingerprinting, DNA profiling, and polygraphy, which have been treated as examples of scientific controversies. This work has been greatly influenced by scholars in science and technology studies and I have taken an interdisciplinary approach in seeking to bring together these empirical understandings of scientific practice with legal scholarship. I see my work as contributing to a developing body of scholarship where scientific and technology studies approaches are applied to courtroom decision-making.

Soren Frederiksen