Written by Dr Marc Green 

Imagine a trial about a botched surgical procedure. A surgery “expert” takes the stand to give his opinion. Upon examination, he says that no, he has never done any surgery himself. Nor has he ever studied the underlying scientific disciplines of anatomy or physiology. He says that he qualified, however, because he has read a book chapter on surgery by the noted physician Paulski Olsonovich and that he once took a 2-day chiropractor course that included a 2 hour discussion of surgery.

Would this surgery “expert” be allowed to testify? Not likely. But substitute the phrases “perception-reaction time” for “surgery,” “vision” for “anatomy” and “cognition” for “physiology” and apparently, voila, the “expert” is qualified.

This probably explains why there is no area of “expert” opinion on road accidents that has more misinformation, more inappropriate use of canned numbers, more misunderstanding and, to use scientific terminology, more good old fashioned BS. Like the surgery expert above, most PRT “experts” have never actually done the task that they feel free to opine about. They have likely never measured a reaction time nor done any other behavioral scientific research and do not understand the complexities of scientific research and how much the methodological details determine what a scientific research study can actually tell you. In short, science, like surgery, is something you do and not just something you know. Moreover, most “experts” have never read the original source data and don’t have the background to evaluate and interpret the studies if they did. Like the surgery expert, they have no training or experience in foundational scientific areas, human learning, memory, perception, decision-making, etc., to put the results into a broader behavioral context. They rely on secondary sources that omit many of the critical methodological details necessary to interpret the data.

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