Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Neurolaw: Mind readers bustle into the court room

I am sure glad someone is writing about this, though glad it isn't my own job.
The problem is that judges and jurors will mistakenly assume that technologies that are demonstrably valid medical diagnostic tools yield equally valid conclusions when they are used to map the neural correlates of deception and other forms of cognition.
I think what this person is trying to say is this (though he can't just come right out and say it): Neuroscience can tell you if an elderly person's brain problems are the likely cause of serious cognitive deficits. That's very useful; one can make better decisions for that person's care, decisions that respect his dignity too.

If neuroscience claims to tell us whether Jimmy "the jimslamm" is lying, well, yes of course he is.

If his lips are moving and intelligible sounds are coming out of his mouth, he is lying. I've dealt with lots of people like him so I can tell you for free and save you trouble.

But what is he lying about this time? I don't like this new neurolaw craze for a number of reasons. I think Jimmy should just take his chances with a skilled Crown*. A fair fight.

*In Canada, counsel for the prosecution

The Future of Neuroimaged Lie Detection and the Law

Joelle Anne Moreno
Florida International University College of Law

Akron Law Review, Vol. 42, pp. 717-734, 2009
Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-06

Neuroscience will certainly change law. In fact, neuroscience research has the potential to influence a vast range of legal decisions. To the extent that neuroscientists increasingly make claims that neuroimaging reveals cognition, even the most unimaginative prognosticator might predict: (1) the preliminary investigative use of neuroimages to enhance witness interviews and police interrogations (including but not limited to lie-detection), (2) jury selection based on neuroimages that appear to reveal jurors' unconscious stereotypes or biases, and (3) arguments about intent or sentencing based on neuroimage-enhanced explanations of behavior and predictions of dangerousness. In anticipation of a brave new world of neuroscience 'enhanced' law, this Article suggests that if we want to predict or control future social and legal responses to cognitive neuroscience research, we must carefully and explicitly consider two basic preexisting realities: (1) our shared assumptions about the validity of the medical field of neuroscience and the accuracy of diagnostic neuroimaging technologies; and (2) our increasingly frequent exposure (even within the mainstream media) to uncritical reports of cognitive neuroscience research that purports to correlate brain activity with cognition, deception,or social behavior. The risk, is that if we ignore these realities, judges, jurors, and the general public will likely view all or most neuroscience-based evidence as legitimate 'hard' science because researchers rely on technologically sophisticated neuroimaging tools of demonstrated accuracy. The problem is that judges and jurors will mistakenly assume that technologies that are demonstrably valid medical diagnostic tools yield equally valid conclusions when they are used to map the neural correlates of deception and other forms of cognition.
Accepted Paper Series


Mind and society: Why you can trust the people, when they have a chance

A correspondent commends to me "Pray the Devil Back to Hell", an award-winning documentary about how Liberian women put a stop to a long and brutal war.

If so, they are deeply commended from my safe apartment in Toronto.

No country can prosper without good citizens. It is an old notion, called - in Latin - civitas , and in English "citizenship."

Liberia was founded by people who had lived in slavery in the United States, and we must all wish them well in this matter.

The lesson I take from these women's experience is, don't wait for the government to do things we can do ourselves.

That includes - in my experience, admittedly much less painful than these Liberians' - dealing with incidents of racism or anti-Semitism or just plain uncivil behaviour on one's own. Why ask for a big, expensive, and possibly useless or Constitnution-denying government process?

Yes, it creates government jobs. But why not just make clear that we think that the person who talks and acts that way is a useless, tasteless boob who probably couldn't get a job picking up after dogs?

Wouldn't that be far more useful and cheaper?

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Neuroscience: Stuff I didn't need to hear about what people care about, but pass along anyway

This from a recent study of religion, using neuroscience techniques:
While religious and nonreligious thinking differentially engage broad regions of the frontal, parietal, and medial temporal lobes, the difference between belief and disbelief appears to be content-independent. Our study compares religious thinking with ordinary cognition and, as such, constitutes a step toward developing a neuropsychology of religion. However, these findings may also further our understanding of how the brain accepts statements of all kinds to be valid descriptions of the world.
The study compares religious believers and non-believers, which I think is a bogus comparison. Everybody believes something. One must be quite the dull stick not to believe anything. Non-believers in traditional religions are often great fans of the environment, the government, their trade union, their home team, a political party, atheist book clubs, a rock band, their local Hell's Angels club house, or whatever.

It would be a big step forward if researchers recognized that religious beliefs are not different in principle from other beliefs. The fact that contrary nonsense is even entertained is an impediment to science.

Yes, religion is very important, at least to some people. But then so is membership in a Chrysler trade union or the Hell's Angels or the Flyers' fan club to others.

Thus, I am hardly surprised to learn that "the difference between belief and disbelief appears to be content-independent."

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


Neuroscience: The importance of focused attention

In the Huffington Post, Rick Smith (October 9, 2009) notes
In a 2005 article for the United Kingdom's Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, physicist Henry Stapp and psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz showed that sustained concentrated attention on any particular mental experience-a thought, an insight, an image, even a fear-not only kept the brain circuitry involved open and alive but also eventually produced physical changes in the brain's structure. In effect, by increasing attention, you are creating brain architecture specifically suited to the challenges before you. Little wonder, then, that performance should grow dramatically.
Schwartz is the lead author of The Mind and the Brain, which sets forth this thesis in more detail. Basically, our minds become what we focus attention on, and this can be good or bad for us, depending on what that is.

Meanwhile, this Dark Age blog post (October 11 2009) mentions both Mario Beauregard, the third author of the 2005 paper and yours truly as well.


Atheism and pop culture: Religious commitment as mild dementia?

I had computer problems last week, hence no blogging.

In "God vs. Science Isn't the Issue", William McGurn (Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2009) notes,
In contrast to the majority of scientists whose wondrous discoveries seem to inspire humility, today's advocates of scientism can be every bit as dogmatic as the William Jennings Bryans of yesteryear. We saw an example a week ago, when the New York Times reported that many scientists view "outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia."
The reporter was Gardiner Harris, and the object of his snark was Francis Collins—the new director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins is perhaps best noted for his leadership on the Human Genome Project, an effort to map the genetic makeup of man. But he is also well known for his unapologetic talk about his Christian faith and how he came to it.

Mr. Harris's aside about dementia, of course, is less a proposition open to debate than the kind of putdown you tell at a private cocktail party where you know everyone in the room shares your orthodoxies. In this room, there are those who hold that God cannot be reconciled with what science has discovered about the human body, the origin of the species, and the beginnings of the universe. The more honest ones do not flinch before the implications of their materialist principles on our understanding of human dignity and human rights and human freedom—as well as on religion.
A couple of thoughts:

- Whoever said God vs. science was an issue? The whole idea was invented and is kept alive by materialist atheists, whose comments about "dementia" tell you something worth knowing.

- I have noticed that working scientists tend to be humble in the face of the facts, which is a good place to begin any type of true knowledge. The practitioners of scientism, by contrast, behave like cult members.* Recently, I was listening to one of them hold forth as an after-dinner speaker, proclaiming that on many science stories there is only one side. Well, that's all right then; we can all just mindlessly shout in unison. Oh wait. Cue the pop science press on any subject to do with neuroscience. It is genuinely hard to imagine a neuroscience story so stupid they wouldn't run with it.

- Francis Collins is, in my view, one confused puppy about some issues about which Christians generally have not been confused. So if even Collins is being attacked - when he agrees with the materialists that there can be human lives that don't matter, that humans can do whatever they want with - what does it tell you?: A materialist elite will attack theists even when they are trying to make nice by throwing away key reasons for being a theist.

- Lastly, William Jennings Bryan was not a dogmatist. He had been secretary of state for the US in World War I, and he knew that Darwinism played a role in the notion, prevalent among Germans of the day, that they were born to rule, due to "evolution". He did not want similar ideas taught in publicly funded schools in Tennessee. However, the textbook used there featured eugenics quite openly. As a once textbook editor myself, I can assure you that statements made in the text Scopes taught from (Hunter's Civic Biology) would just never appear in any textbook in Canada today. Lawsuits, and probably hearings as well, would follow.

Bryan's approach was unwise, in my view, because it would be better to just edit that garbage out of the textbooks than make a law or try a teacher over it. But Bryan has been unfairly caricatured, as above, as a foolish fellow, when he was in fact concerned about a legitimate problem. One that - it should be admitted - few others were even trying to address.

Most important, al this tells you what governance by a materialist elite is like (= reasons for not voting for them and not cutting them any slack).

*Not to be confused with religious people generally, who often have the good sense to be confused, divided, or uncertain until they have had an opportunity to weigh the matter in the light of a long tradition - millennia, maybe - of difficult problems.

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