Legal Alchemy

The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law

David L. Faigman

Henry Holt and Co.

Is scientific information misused by this country’s court system and lawmakers? Today more than ever before, lawyers, politicians, and government administrators are forced to wrestle with scientific research and to employ scientific thinking. The results are often less than enlightened.

In Legal Alchemy, David Faigman explores the ways the American legal system incorporates scientific knowledge into its decision making. Praised by both legal and scientific communities when it first appeared in hardcover, Legal Alchemy shows how science has been used and misused in a variety of settings, including

• The Courtroom—from the O. J. Simpson trial to the Dow Corning silicone breast implant lawsuit to landmark cases such as Roe v. Wade.

• The Legislature—where Congress uses scientific information to help enact legislation about clean air, cloning, and government science projects like the space station and the superconducting super collider.

• Government Agencies—who use science to determine policy on a variety of topics, from regulating sport utility vehicles to reintroducing gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

As Faigman describes these and other important cases, he provides disturbing evidence that many judges, juries, and members of Congress simply don’t understand the science behind their decisions. Finally, he offers suggestions on how the science and legal professions can overcome their miscommunication and work together more effectively.


Read an Excerpt

Legal Alchemy
IFROM THE DARK AGES TO THE NEW AGEThe Strange History of Science in the Law 
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.--Genesis 
At about one-hundredth of a second after the beginning, ... the temperature of the universe is 100,000 million degrees Kelvin (1011 K) ... . It is filled with an undifferentiated soup of matter and radiation, each


Praise for Legal Alchemy

"Legal Alchemy shows us what can go wrong and how justice can be frustrated when lawmakers and our legal system don't understand the scientific basis for many of our laws. David Faigman has written an important book."
—Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor, author of Helter Skelter and Outrage—The Five Reasons O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder

"A cogent argument for lawyers, judges, and legislators to become 'sophisticated consumers of science' so that they can do their jobs with the expertise required in this increasingly technological world."
Christian Science Monitor

"Faigman prefers to teach, explaining why science and law don’t always dovetail and showing how they can work better together . . . . The analysis is sober and the ideas thought-provoking."
Washington Post Book World

"The title may seem to promise a rant against 'junk science,' but although disapproving of government misunderstanding and misuse of science, the author delivers a much more thoughtful book."
National Law Journal

"If you have ever been or plan to be an expert witness, this book is a must read . . . . If you are ever involved in a lawsuit arguing points of science or engineering, you need to prepare by reading this book. Even if you plan to be involved, you must read this book, to ensure you are grounded enough in the frailties of a legal system that doesn't really understand science and is absolutely leery of scientists."
American Scientist

"A gripping account of the stormy relationship between law and science. People in black robes look warily when people in white lab coats enter the courtroom. Faigman's clear-eyed and level-headed book shows us how right judges are to be concernedæand how much scientists (at least some of them) can offer the law."
—John Monahan, Doherty Professor of Law, University of Virginia

"Starting with an examination of the interrelationships between science, law and religion, Faigman goes on to look at how each of the three branches of the federal government approach controversies in which science is involved. His economical prose makes this an interesting read."
The National Law Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



  • David L. Faigman

  • David L. Faigman is a Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He writes extensively on topics concerning the law’s use of science and is a co-author of the leading treatise Modern Scientific Evidence: The Law and Science of Expert Testimony, which has been cited several times by the United States Supreme Court. He is regularly interviewed regarding issues of scientific evidence and constitutional law.


Available Formats and Book Details

Legal Alchemy

The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law

David L. Faigman

  • e-Book



Henry Holt and Co.