In television crime dramas, savvy lawyers are able to overcome improbable odds to win their cases by presenting seemingly iron-clad scientific evidence. In real-world courtrooms, however, the quality of scientific testimony can vary wildly, making it difficult for judges and juries to distinguish between solid research and so-called junk science.
This is true for all scientific disciplines, including psychological science, which plays an important role in assessing such critical pieces of testimony as eyewitness accounts, witness recall, and the psychological features of defendants and litigants.
A new, multiyear study published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI), a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), finds that only 40% of the psychological assessment tools used in courts have been favorably rated by experts. Even so, lawyers rarely challenge their conclusions, and when they do, only one third of those challenges are successful.