Saturday, January 03, 2009

Neuroscience and criminal justice: Voodoo, for example ...

A friend draws my attention to the attempt to incorporate brain scanning into criminal justice.

Neurolaw and Criminal Justice

By Ken Strutin, Published on December 28, 2008

Rapid advancements in forensic neuroscience are having an impact on criminal justice. The use of neuroimaging has emerged from medical analysis identifying abnormalities and dysfunctions to delving into lie detection and decision making. The courts are facing evidence about what the brain's form and function can reveal about human behavior and knowledge.

Currently the application and validity of neuroscience in criminal cases is being debated, particularly as a basis for prosecution. See, e.g., Judges Junk Bogus Neuroscience, New Scientist, December 21, 2008 (Judge John "Kennedy's gathering, at the New Jersey Judicial College in Teaneck, agreed that brain scans, if accompanied by the opinion of a medical professional, can reveal if a person is in pain or mentally competent to stand trial, but cannot be used to determine a state of guilt."); India’s Novel Use of Brain Scans in Courts Is Debated, New York Times, September 14, 2008 ("Now, well before any consensus on the technology’s readiness, India has become the first country to convict someone of a crime relying on evidence from this controversial machine: a brain scanner that produces images of the human mind in action and is said to reveal signs that a suspect remembers details of the crime in question."

I am deeply skeptical of this trend, and glad if it is being treated with an appropriate amount of distrust (= a lot of distrust). This is really no different in principle from the "recovered memories" fad - an effort to use occult systems of knowledge to discover what cannot be learned by conventional methods.

My own view is that whatever cannot be learned by conventional methods should just be considered inaccessible for present purposes. There is otherwise a vast scope for well-intentioned abuse. And well-intentioned abuse is often the worst kind, because it tends to be widely accepted.

How much better is this really than "If the Sacred Chicken pecks in your direction, you must be guilty ... "?