The Advantage Blog

WHAT YOUR JURY REALLY KNOWS ABOUT SCIENCE

July 13, 2019 | By | ,

The degree to which a juror understands science can have a significant impact on the way they perceive the narrative, themes, arguments, and supporting evidence presented at trial. Audience analysis is the first step to persuasion, so what do we know about our audience?

Scientific knowledge is correlated with education

First, it’s important to note that your likely hunch is correct. Scientific knowledge is correlated with level of educational attainment. A Pew research survey conducted on March 28, 2019 showed that Postgraduates posted the most knowledge about science followed by college graduates, then those with some college, then High School or less.

What percentage of people have attained each level?

Scientific knowledge being correlated with education begs the question, “What percentage of people fit in each level of educational attainment?” Interestingly enough, the United States has the most educated population it’s ever had as of 2017. Ninety percent of those aged 25 years or higher have completed High School or more (as a comparison – only 24 percent had finished high school in 1940). Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher of persons aged 25 years or more is 30.9%.
Postgraduate degrees are held by 9.3% of Americans.

How does this change by venue?

If you think of the percentage of those with bachelor’s degrees in the United States as the bar, then you can have a +/- to reference to get a sense if the college educated are over or under-represented in the venue. A short list of major venues looks like this:

1. New York County, NY (Manhattan Borough) (New York City) 60% (+29.8%)
2. District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) 56.6% (+25.7%)
3. San Francisco County, CA (San Francisco) 55.8% (+24.9%)
4. King County, WA (Seattle) 50.3% (+19.4%)
5. Multnomah County, OR (Portland) 43.8% (+12.9%)
6. Suffolk County, MA (Boston) 43.6% (+12.7%)
7. San Diego County, CA (San Diego) 37.4% (+6.5%)
8. Cook County, IL (Chicago) 37.2% (+6.3%)
9. Maricopa County, AZ (Phoenix) 31.4% (+.5%)
10. Los Angeles County, CA (Los Angeles) 31.2% (+.3%)
11. Harris County, TX (Houston) 30.5% (-.4%)
12. Dallas County, TX (Dallas) 30.1% (-.8%)
13. Miami-Dade County, FL (Miami) 27.8% (-3.1%)
14. Bexar County, TX (San Antonio) 27.3% (-3.6%)
15. Philadelphia County, PA (Philadelphia) 27.1% (-3.8%)
16. Clark County, NV (Las Vegas) 23.3% (-7.6%)

What’s the breakdown of the knowledge that was measured?

Pew research center asked 11 questions to measure the scientific knowledge of respondents in four categories: Life science, earth and other physical science, numeracy and chart reading, and scientific processes. The results of the survey ranked from highest percentage correct to least are:

1. Antibiotic resistance is a major concern of antibiotics overuse – 79% correct.
2. Identify the definition of an incubation period – 76% correct.
3. Oil, natural gas and coal are fossil fuels – 68% correct.
4. Tilt of Earth’s axis in relation to sun determines seasons 63% correct.
5. Deforestation on land leads to increased erosion – 60% correct.
6. Identify the need for a control group to determine effectiveness of a new drug – 60% correct.
7. Chicago, Illinois has the greatest annual range of temperature (with charts) – 59% correct.
8. A car traveling 40 mph travels 30 miles in 45 minutes – 57% correct.
9. Inserting a gene into a plant is an example of genetic engineering – 56% correct.
10. Identify a hypothesis about a computer slowing down – 52% correct.
11. The main components of antacids are bases – 39% correct.

Venues are different. Scientific knowledge and understanding can be a factor with many different types of litigation. Knowing one’s audience is an essential first step in any persuasive endeavor. This knowledge allows the advocate to calibrate the depth and breadth of the scientific elements of their case as early as possible in the litigation life cycle. When put to use, this knowledge provides guidance to the way questions are asked in depositions and the attack strategy when approaching the opposition in discovery all the way through trial.

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