Monday, June 30, 2003

The Cows Come Home

The New York Times reports on a lawsuit won by dairy farmers whose cattle began wasting away after consuming hay from fields fertilized with processed sludge from Atlanta's sewage plants. Other lawsuits involving toxins in sludge remain pending.

Although the problem will be new to many, the Times recounts attention to this topic from environmentalists and regulators dating back to at least 1978 -- the date of an EPA memorandum acknowledging the presence of toxins in sludge but noting that it also contains nutrients beneficial for land and crops. The issue has assumed greater significance since Congress banned ocean dumping in 1992, prompting increased use of the sludge for fertilizer.

There is no debate, apparently, that the sludge contains toxic materials. The debate is over whether its benefits outweigh the risks, and over the scope of the risks when the sludge is "properly" applied. The National Academy of Sciences looked into the matter and reached mixed conclusions in a 2002 report, finding the scientific evidence inconclusive but further study to be warranted.

It is an "anecdotal" datum, no doubt, that all those cows are dying from something, and doing so after consuming hay from fields to which substances known to contain toxins were applied. It is interesting to consider what evidence courts might accept, by way of proof that the sludge caused the problem. Is there such a thing as veterinary epidemiology? But perhaps evidentiary standards are sometimes more forgiving, when the legal injury is seen as commercial. Interestingly, the Times article says nothing about what may happen if humans consume the beef from the cattle.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Hello World!

It is the year 2001, and you think yourself modern. So you labor mightily, tirelessly poring over dusty volumes, to build a web site on Daubert. It is a daunting and transforming task. You confront the mysteries of html. You start having opinions about things like javascript. Abandoning your shame over self-promotion, you link and struggle to get linked in return. You even somehow manage to get yourself crawled by Google.

It is the year 2002. At long last, all your efforts have paid off. Not monetarily, mind you. But spiritually. Your handiwork is finally available to people around the globe, at the merest click of a mouse, and a few people have actually noticed.

Quite a bracing feeling.

But now it is the year 2003, and as it turns out, nobody cares these days, unless you have a blog. So here you are.
Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.