Increasingly, lawyers and policymakers are confronted with the need to evaluate scientific research about causes of good or ill health. Should the family of a person who was exposed to asbestos and later died of lung cancer sue? At what level should mercury in tuna violate regulatory standards? What measures can be employed to control the spread of an Ebola outbreak or to prevent obesity? Will mandatory quarantines save lives if a bioterrorist releases anthrax in a major city?
This class will provide students with a basic toolset in public health’s empirical methods. Disciplines such as epidemiology, risk assessment, and biostatistics provide ways to systematically evaluate proposed policy and search for answers in the quest for better health. To illustrate how these methods are deployed in practice, we will discuss case studies from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Zika virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and novel avian influenza, among others. We will also examine US domestic health issues that engage questions of law, policy, and democracy.
Students who successfully complete this class will not be trained to be professional scientists. However, students will be able to:
(1) Understand fundamental epidemiological concepts;
(2) Interpret health data and research;
(3) Critically evaluate empirical claims;
(4) Identify when assistance from health experts is required; and
(5) Apply learnings to the development of policy and laws.
Lawyers with training in epidemiology will be able to more effectively respond to emerging and persistent issues in our complex society, whether they practice in health law, torts, environmental regulation, law enforcement, or human rights.