Science and environmental law: collaboration across the double helix

McEldowney, John and McEldowney, Sharron (2011) Science and environmental law: collaboration across the double helix. Environmental Law Review, 13 (3). pp. 169-198. ISSN 1461-4529

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Science engages both substantially and methodologically with environmental law more than with any other law subject. Collaboration between environmental lawyers and scientists is essential in the development of sustainable solutions to environmental problems. Law and science are distinct disciplines with their own autonomy and methodology. Science claims objective facts as reality, while law seeks to reconcile different understandings or disputes about facts. Legal truth and scientific truth may seem to be at odds with each other. In the policy field scientific expertise can be in conflict with political or media perspectives; nevertheless effective legislation has to be based on sound science. Judicial opinion is often reliant on science but may struggle to accommodate it within legal doctrines. In this paper we put the intersection of law and science under scrutiny in an effort to address what is seen as one of the ‘structural sources’ of environmental law scholarship used in defining environmental problems. Our approach is interdisciplinary as the integration of science with law provides a normative influence over environmental law and has greatest potential to shape the future of environmental law scholarship. Interdisciplinarity requires recognition of differing methodologies but also the facility to collaborate across the disciplinary divide. This is illustrated by examples such as the influence of risk assessment and the precautionary principle; EU legislation such as REACH, the Water Framework Directive (WFD); and the demands of regulating new developments such as GMOs. We argue for a greater mutual dialogue and understanding between law and science that supports a reflexive learning approach that crosses disciplines and is based on the principles of evaluation and justification. Both inductive and deductive forms of reasoning contribute to the dialogue and science is regarded not as an autonomous and external input into law and environmental policy making, but as intrinsic to the regulatory process. In contemporary society science is embedded in the legal and administrative culture in which it is a partner more than in the past. Science helps establish the facts and data as well as the techniques of evaluation, which are essential for sustainable environmental regulation. We argue that the existing epistemological/methodological framework must shift to accommodate a different perspective that is sufficiently reflexive to promote effective learning specifically linked to solutions that correspond to identifiable environmental problems. Reflexive learning processes should engage with the changing and diverse approaches to regulatory styles of governance and the diffuse and complex nature of environmental problems.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: University of Westminster > Science and Technology > Life Sciences, School of (No longer in use)
Depositing User: Rachel Wheelhouse
Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2012 12:45
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2012 12:45

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