American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 52, Issue 3 (2016)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Judges are the gatekeepers for courtroom evidence. A decision about scientific-evidence admissibility requires knowledge of the relevant content and a judgment about the quality of what is often an enormous and complex research literature. How are judges to learn about a highly specialized topic? One option is to immerse oneself in the scientific research. Alternatively, judges may read legal briefs for related cases, attend judicial-education seminars, or open their courtrooms to experts at pretrial hearings or at trial. In any of these ventures, one is likely to run into the research review technique called meta-analysis.

This article has two primary and parallel objectives: (1) to describe what one can expect to find within a high-quality published meta-analysis, should one choose to go directly to the research literature, and (2) to propose how the qualities of a good meta-analysis can serve as a standard for how scientific knowledge is transferred to judges and juries when scientific experts become a part of the legal process (e.g., via judicial training, pretrial hearings, or expert testimony).