This ACELG lecture will be based on Wendy Wagner’s (University of Texas) recently published book ‘Incomprehensible! A Study of How Our Legal System Encourages Incomprehensibility, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It.’
The legal system is awash with excessive and incomprehensible information. Yet many of us assume that the unrelenting torrent of information pouring into various legal programs is both inevitable and unstoppable. We have become complacent; but it does not have to be this way. Incomprehensible! argues that surrendering to incomprehensibility is a bad mistake. Drawing together evidence from diverse fields such as consumer protection, financial regulation, patents, chemical control, and administrative and legislative processes, this book identifies a number of important legal programs that are built on the foundational assumption that 'more information is better'. Each of these legal processes have been designed in ways that ignore the imperative of meaningful communication. To rectify this systemic problem, the law must be re-designed to pay careful attention to the problem of incomprehensibility.
Wendy Wagner is a leading authority on the use of science by environmental policy-makers. She received a Masters of Environmental Studies in 1984 and her law degree in 1987, both from Yale, where she was Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal and Managing Editor of the Yale Journal of Regulation. Before entering teaching, she practiced for four years, first as an Honors Attorney in the Enforcement Division of the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division, and then as Pollution Control Coordinator with the Department of Agriculture's Office of the General Counsel. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Texas, Professor Wagner taught at Case Western Law School and was a visiting professor at Columbia and Vanderbilt Law Schools.
Prof. Wagner’s research focuses on the intersection of law and science, with particular attention to environmental policy. Among her publications, “Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research,” a 2009 book Wagner co-authored with UT colleague, Tom McGarity, received the Hamilton Grand Prize for the best book published at UT in 2009. "Dynamic Rulemaking" (with Bill West, Tom McGarity, and Lisa Peters) was awarded the 2018 American Bar Association Award for Scholarship in Administrative Law. Several other articles ("The Science Charade in Toxic Risk Regulation”, "Equal Treatment for Regulatory Science" (co-authored with David Michaels), and “Misunderstanding Models” (co-authored with Pasky Pascual and Liz Fisher)) were chosen as one of the best environmental law articles of the year and reprinted in the Land Use and Environmental Law Review. Two other articles (“Information Capture and Filter Failure” and “Competition-based Regulation”) were selected for publication in the ELI-Vanderbilt Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review as among the top articles of the year.
More information about the book on the website of Cambridge University Press.