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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Neurolaw: Stephanie West Allen on its potential dangers

Stephanie West Allen of Brains on Purpose worries about "neurolaw" - a new specialty that attempts to fritz people's brains to discover the state of their responsibility in criminal cases:
As I have blogged before, neurolaw is fraught with danger and unsubstantiated promises. It overestimates what we can do, and learn about people, with the current state of neuroscience and leaves out some of the research that contradicts many of its assertions and predictions. Scary. I hope to promote critical thinking on the topic.

At the seminar on neuroscience and conflict resolution last week, I asked Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz to talk about the MacArthur Foundation grant to study neuroscience and law. He covered several of the problems that could result from research that leaves out much of the picture. (See my blog post for more.)

I think she is right to worry. With a $10 million dollar grant from the MacArthur Foundation, neurolaw promoters can connect up with zillions of defense lawyers who would like to get their client off - just this once.

Fair enough, but ... at the price of leading the client to believe that one cannot control one's behaviour? One is trapped in crime? That's just not true for most people, and it has never done any good for those who believed it.

Choosing short term gratification as opposed to long term welfare is NOT evidence that we cannot control our behaviour. It is a decision - nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes it is a decision that ends in a fine or jail time. Otherwise, loss of friends, lovers, jobs, health, or life.

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