The interaction of science and law in protecting the public’s health

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Carl F. Cranor


postmarket laws, premarket laws, science-law interaction, mechanistic evidence


As public health interventions largely eradicated infectious diseases, chronic diseases became the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in developed countries. Too many chronic diseases result from environmental exposures caused by the actions or products of others. My research has addressed how science-law interactions can reduce or prevent diseases caused by others. A recent work, Tragic Failures: How and Why We Are Harmed by Toxic Substances, explores the relations between science and the law 1) in administrative law, which aims to prevent or reduce environmentally triggered diseases, and 2) in the tort or personal injury law, a venue to compensate people who have been harmed by the actions or products of others. While laws guide both institutions, science assists in discovering, understanding, limiting, and mitigating risks. How it is utilized matters. This article first considers the law-science interaction under administrative laws to protect citizens from environmentally triggered diseases or dysfunctions: “When should science be used to identify potential risks to protect the public?” and, “How much and what kinds of scientific evidence should used to reduce or remove risks from products once they are commerce?” Next, the discussion addresses, “How much and what kinds of evidence should the tort law require for plaintiffs to be compensated for injuries caused by others? I suggest a unified approach to address the “how-much-evidence-is-needed-for institutional-responses” in the law. Recent scientific findings hold the promise for quicker identification of toxicants to protect the public health.

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