Philosopher Whose Work Influenced the Law Honored

Phi Beta Kappa bestows Romanell Professorship on Carl Cranor

Carl Cranor

Philosophy professor Carl Cranor has been awarded the prestigious Romanell-Phi Beta Kappa Professorship in Philosophy.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Carl Cranor, a distinguished professor of philosophy and faculty member of the Environmental Toxicology Graduate Program at the University of California, Riverside, has been awarded the prestigious Romanell-Phi Beta Kappa Professorship in Philosophy for 2014-15. Cranor is known globally for his research on the regulation of toxic substances, the ethics of risk, and the philosophy of law and science.

The Romanell Professorship is awarded to one philosopher every year by the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest and most widely known academic honor society in the United States. The annual award carries with it a stipend of $7,500.

The philosopher whose work has changed how scientific testimony is addressed in court cases will present three public lectures at UCR in 2014-15, dates to be determined.

Cranor effectively addresses philosophical and ethical issues at the interface of science and the law, along with philosophical issues in risk assessment, public policy, tort law and regulatory law that is informed by extensive understanding of the science needed in each area, Dallas Rabenstein, UCR’s recently retired executive vice chancellor and provost, wrote in a letter to the Romanell Professorship committee in Washington, D.C.

“He has seamlessly conveyed an understanding of important philosophic issues both to a broad public audience and to an audience of experts outside philosophy in public policy and regulatory law, tort law scholars and lawyers, judges, risk assessors, and scientists,” Rabenstein wrote. “In several instances his work has changed both administrative and personal injury law to make the world a safer place.”

While Cranor’s research has grappled with substantial theoretical moral and legal philosophic issues that can make a difference in people’s lives, his research and testimony have made “a significant difference in the lives of identifiable people,” Rabenstein said, noting a case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit in 2011 (Milward v. Acuity Specialty Products) that was subsequently followed in important respects by the West Virginia Supreme Court.

“The Milward decision clarifies the law and permits scientists to present studies in court and reason about them as they would in their scientific disciplines, something many previous court decisions had hampered or prevented,” Rabenstein wrote.

One of the most pressing issues in a scientific and technological society “is to find procedures to permit the flourishing of science and technology and the benefits they promise, while controlling their adverse effects,” he added. “The law is the main institution through which this would be accomplished. A major problem is to create institutional frameworks in which the law can do its job importantly assisted by science consistent with permitting the entrepreneurial institutions to produce their projects without causing harm to the public. Professor Cranor’s research addresses the interaction of law and science to achieve these aims.”

Cranor serves on the Scientific Guidance Panel of the California Environmental Contaminant Biomonitoring Program. The panel plays a significant role in the California Biomonitoring Program, making recommendations about the program’s design and implementation — including the identification of chemicals that are a priority for monitoring in California — and providing scientific peer review. He previously served on three other state science advisory panels: Proposition 65, which requires the state to publish an annual list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive health problems; the Electric and Magnetic Fields Program; and Nanotechnology.

He earned a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in physics at the University of Colorado, a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from UCLA. He is the author of “Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants” (2011); “Toxic Torts: Science, Law and the Possibility of Justice” (2006); and “Regulating Toxic Substances: A Philosophy of Science and the Law: (1993); and is co-author of a report for the Office of Technology Assessment, “Identifying and Regulating Carcinogens” (1987), and a study by an Institute of Medicine committee, “Valuing Health: Cost Effectiveness Analysis for Regulation: (2006).

His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the University of California Toxic Substances Research and Teaching Program.

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