For purposes of determining whether a theory or technique is scientific knowledge under Fed. R. Evid. 702, in the case of a particular scientific technique, the court ordinarily should consider the known or potential rate of error, and the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation. Finally, "general acceptance" can yet have a bearing on the inquiry. A reliability assessment does not require, although it does permit, explicit identification of a relevant scientific community and an express determination of a particular degree of acceptance within that community. Widespread acceptance can be an important factor in ruling particular evidence admissible, and a known technique which has been able to attract only minimal support within the community, may properly be viewed with skepticism. The inquiry envisioned by Rule 702 is a flexible one. Its overarching subject is the scientific validity--and thus the evidentiary relevance and reliability--of the principles that underlie a proposed submission. The focus, of course, must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate.
Petitioners Jason Daubert and Eric Schuller and their parents filed a lawsuit in federal district court against respondent pharmaceutical company, alleging that the children's serious birth defects had been caused by the mothers' prenatal ingestion of Bendectin, a prescription drug marketed by respondent. The district court granted respondent summary judgment based on a well-credentialed expert's affidavit concluding, upon reviewing the extensive published scientific literature on the subject, that maternal use of Bendectin had not been shown to be a risk factor for human birth defects. Although petitioners had responded with the testimony of eight other well-credentialed experts, who based their conclusion that Bendectin could cause birth defects on animal studies, chemical structure analyses, and the unpublished "reanalysis" of previously published human statistical studies, the court determined that such evidence was inadmissible as it did not meet the applicable "general acceptance" standard for the admission of expert testimony. The court of appeals agreed and affirmed, holding that expert opinion based on a scientific technique was inadmissible unless the technique was "generally accepted" as reliable in the relevant scientific community. Petitioners challenged the finding that their experts' opinions were inadmissible as unreliable because they were based on recalculations of study data and such recalculations had not been subjected to peer review or published.
Were the expert testimonies gathered by petitioners admissible?
The Supreme Court of the United States vacated and remanded the lower court's judgment, holding that a technique upon which an expert opinion was based did not have to be generally accepted as reliable as a precondition to the opinion's admission as long as the standards of reliability and relevance under the federal evidence rules were met. Where expert evidence was reliable under federal rules, the evidence was admissible. The common law standard for determining reliability of scientific evidence was inapplicable where federal evidence rules superceded the common law. Publication or peer review of the experts' recalculation was thus unnecessary.