September 2017 | DRI, For the Defense

Meta Analysis: Recycling Garbage or an Important Tool for Evaluating the Evidence?

2 min

Bruce R. Parker, Jamie O'Connor, and Dominik Alexander published "Recycling Garbage or an Important Tool for Evaluating the Evidence?" in the September 2017 edition of For the Defense. Below is a brief excerpt of the article.

"According to Homer, the Greeks snuck past the gates of Troy in the hollow of a large wooden horse. The Greeks offered the horse as a gift, but in reality, it was a ploy for their army, hidden in the belly of the beast, to sneak past the city gates. Once inside the gates, the Greeks wreaked havoc on the unsuspecting Trojans. Likewise, junk science can sneak into the courtroom, concealed by what appears to be a sophisticated meta-analysis. Unlike the oblivious Trojans, defense counsel need to be vigilant to expose junk science premised upon a faulty meta-analysis that appears to have the trappings of legitimate scientific methodology.

Meta-analysis is a method for synthesizing data across a body of evidence to estimate statistical associations and to determine whether the associations represent "true" risk. It should come as no surprise to a defense lawyer that plaintiffs' experts misuse this tool to create associations that don't exist. The difficulty for the defense lawyer is being able to demonstrate in an understandable manner to a judge and jury that corners have been cut by an expert performing a faulty meta- analysis and how doing so produced a false result. An understanding of meta- analysis enables you to point out misapplications of the technique to a court, and in the event that junk science slips past the gatekeeper, to supply the jury with an understanding of this tool and why its results should be rejected."