Using "A Civil Action" to Explore Interfaces Between Science, Citizen Action, Public Health, and the U.S. Legal System

Developed by Professor Scott Bair, with funding from the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation, based on his interdisciplinary mock-trial course at Ohio State University

Constructed by Scott Bair, Ohio State University, and Kevin Svitana, Otterbein University, along with the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College

The landmark case of Anne Anderson et al. versus W.R. Grace & Co. and Beatrice Foods, Inc. is ingrained in high school and college curricula through the award-winning book "A Civil Action" and the movie of the same name starring John Travolta. This website is designed to help students and instructors use the teaching modules and resource collections from the famous trial in science and interdisciplinary courses in high school and college.

Website Overview

The website contains three levels of exploration. Level 1 examines Overarching Questions raised by the lawsuit and broached in the book. Level 2 examines Key Issues in the landmark trial. Level 3 contains Learning Modules that can be used individually in discipline-specific courses without a mock trial or used in sequence in an interdisciplinary course that culminates in a mock trial. The website also contains Resource Collections of water-level, stream gauging, permeability, and VOC data used in the actual trial; more than 150 photographs of Woburn, wells G and H, and Boston; opening statements and closing arguments; depositions of expert witnesses, trial transcripts and exhibits, newspaper articles, animations, videoclips of mock trials, and Google Earth coverages.

Teaching with a Mock Trial

The Instructor Materials provide suggestions on how to incorporate the learning modules and resource collections into courses. The sequence of modules culminates in a mock trial in which students serve as the expert witnesses and attorneys. The role playing requires students to use their verbal communication skills in a formal setting before a judge and a jury using trial exhibits created from the resources within this website. Prior to the pomp and circumstance of the mock trial, students exercise their analytical skills by learning sufficient geology, hydrology, and aqueous chemistry to write an expert opinion and defend it during deposition by opposing counsel. The mock trial with its preparation and spontaneity, teamwork and solitude, anxiety and exhilaration gives students a preview of the skills, emotions, and professionalism they will experience in their careers.

Using Resources Without a Mock Trial

If you are not interested in the mock trial, other activities and assignments in Instructor Materials also can be selected and the student learning modules and associated materials adopted to fit into an existing course or class topic. For example, those wanting to emphasize the scientific aspects of the Woburn Toxic Trial could use Modules 2 though 8, which deal with the medical aspects of cancers, geology of the Woburn site, and fate and transport of contaminants in the groundwater system near municipal wells G and H. Likewise, Modules 9 and 10 could be included in a curriculum dealing with the communication of scientific principles and concepts for writers and news people.

Website Map

View the website map to see how the three levels of exploration, resource collections, and learning modules are organized and linked.