A Civil Action - The Woburn Toxic Trial > About this Project

About this Project


Science in the Courtroom - The Woburn Toxic Trial explores the interplay between science, citizen action, public health, and the American legal system. The website provides resources to examine the intriguing scientific, environmental, and public-health issues raised in landmark case of Anne Anderson et al. versus W.R. Grace & Co. and Beatrice Foods, Inc. This civil lawsuit formed the foundation for the award-winning book "A Civil Action" by Jonathan Harr and the movie starring John Travolta, Robert Duvall, and Kathleen Quinlan.

The goals of this website are to provide visitors with the background and resources necessary to explore Overarching Societal Issues, Keys Issues in the Federal Trial, and Student Learning Modules that can be used individually in existing courses or collectively to develop a mock trial course. The Instructor Materials provide suggestions for the various activities and assignments in the student learning modules. The website also contains Resource Collections of trial testimony, newspaper articles, legal filings and motions, historic photographs, aerial photographs, videoclips and animations, and an extensive bibliography.

Ohio State University students participating in a mock trial

The student learning modules are designed to build knowledge while developing scientific reasoning skills and data analysis skills within the context of the famous lawsuit. In so doing, users get an overview of the part of the U.S. legal system dealing with civil trials and toxic tort law. The initial learning modules contain a series of skill and interest-building exercises that provide students with experience in data processing and analysis which ultimately enables them to form an "expert legal opinion". The capstone module involves students role-playing as legal counsel and expert witnesses presenting their opinions in a mock trial. The role playing enables students to experience the challenges and techniques used in presenting direct testimony to a jury and defending their opinions on cross examination. Videoclips of students role-playing in a mock trial conducted at the Ohio State University are provided to give a sense of the mock-trial setting and to help instructors troubleshoot their trials prior to enactment to make the learning experience effective and rewarding.

The website went 'live' in January 2008. The websites resources are complete and ready for use. Minor amendments will be made for the next year as assessments of the learning modules are made.

For more information regarding the Ohio State mock trial see:

  • Bair, E.S. (2000). Developing Analytical and Communication Skills in a Mock-Trial Course Based on the Famous Woburn, Massachusetts Case. Journal of Geoscience Education, 48(4), 450.

  • Project PI: E. Scott Bair, School of Earth Sciences, Ohio State University (esbair@geology.ohio-state.edu)
    Post-Doctoral Fellow: Kevin Svitana, School of Earth Sciences, Ohio State University
    Sub-Award: Cathy Manduca and staff, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College


    This project is funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education of the National Science Foundation under grant DUE-0443076.

    Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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