Friday, April 28, 2006

Quoting Internet Sources in Expert Reports


A reader contacted me this week with a warning about quoting from Internet sources in expert reports. My main concern has always been with providing correct attribution but as experts, other issues should be addressed as well. Richard O. Neville, of Fort Myers, Florida gave me permission to share his experience with you, as I think this is a caution all experts should take into consideration when creating their expert reports.

Increasingly, I quote Internet sources in expert reports, and see other experts doing the same. However, there is a potential drawback that has led me to develop a hard and fast rule: “Always make a printed copy of the material before quoting it in a report or other document.”

I learned about this the hard way when testifying about information I had put into an expert report, and whose Internet URL I quoted for each separate item. On cross-examination, the lawyer produced printed copies of the sites I had quoted, but showing different information. Since he never offered these sheets as hearing exhibits, I don’t know where the discrepancies occurred, but it was still effective impeachment, and cast doubt on certain conclusions.

More recently, I looked at a site and forgot to print a copy. When assembling my expert report I returned to the site for confirmation, only to find that the information I wanted to quote was no longer there, because the company had been sold. I even used “The Wayback Machine
, a site that allows you to access outdated copies of a site, without success. Evidently the new owners had trashed the old information.

So, a hard copy (on which your computer will automatically print the site address and date accessed) is the safe way to quote source information from the Internet. And look at the other side - ask the opposing expert to produce a hard copy of any Internet sources relied upon or quoted.

4 comments:

Timothy Brooks, MD said...

I would be surprised that anyone would be using "information" from the internet, other than on-line textbooks or peer review literature, that would obviously be available for access at a later time.

The quality of non-peer material is so questionable that I would not understand why any expert would rely on such information.

Timothy Brooks, MD said...

I would be surprised that anyone would be using "information" from the internet other than on-line textbooks or peer review literature that would obviously be available for access at a later time.

The quality of non-peer material is so questionable that I would not understand why any expert would rely on such information.

Michigan Engineer said...

The engineering profession has numerous web sites containing useful information that a practitioner normally relies upon. Therefore information from the net is usable--another widely used source is manufacturers' catalog information, which quickly becomes bulky and obsolete.

I use the web frequently. I make sure to personally evaluate the material and, if I use it, keep a hard copy and also try to find one or more additional sources to substantiate the information.

Anonymous said...

As the writer of the original article, I respond to Dr. Brooks as follows: the "information" to which I referred was a listing by an automotive manufacturer of its dealers throughout the United States. This information is so voluminous and so subject to change that I don't believe it's published anywhere BUT on the Internet.

Its "quality" was not in question; it was simply a factual listing of dealer names and addresses, and other information about each. I hardly call that "questionable." If the Internet site contained an opinion with which reasonable people could differ, that's another matter.