News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

PBS and Alan Alda Explore How Neuroscience Could Change Law

This September, a new two-part PBS broadcast hosted by Alan Alda is taking on an issue at the heart of CLBB’s mission: how brain science could improve the criminal justice system.

Speaking with experts including Gene Beresin of Harvard Medical School, Joshua Buckholtz of Harvard University and a CLBB faculty member, Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health, Joshua Greene of Harvard, Owen Jones of Vanderbilt University and Kent Kiehl of the University of New Mexico, Brains on Trial asks:

– Why is there a need to revamp the criminal justice system?
– What do we already know about neuroscience in the courtroom?
– What can future courtrooms expect from neuroscience?

The website for the production includes law and neuroscience resources as well as information about the numerous experts who contributed.

Brains on Trial will air September 11 and 18 on PBS. On September 17, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT will host an event with Alan Alda discussing the production and the issues.’

RSVP for the 9/17 event at MIT with Alan Alda, Steven Morse, Nancy Kanwisher, Josh Greene, and Bob Desimone.

Go to the official page for Brains on Trial.

Read more about Brains on Trial.

 

New Book Discusses Misuses of Neuroscience

Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, a new book by psychiatrist Sally Satel and psychologist and professor Scott O. Lilienfeld, argues that current real-world applications of neuroscience may be misguided and even harmful.

“Never before has the brain so vigorously engaged the public imagination,” the authors write in the book’s introduction, a development that both delights and dismays them, as much of what enters the popular discussion, they argue, “offers facile and overly mechanistic explanations for complicated behaviors.”

The book goes on to consider current neuroscientific capabilities, their uses, and, crucially, their limitations.

Satel is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine, and a practicing psychiatrist. Lilienfeld is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Emory University.

CLBB faculty Steven E. Hyman and Jeffrey Rosen have endorsed Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience:

“Satel and Lilienfeld have produced a remarkably clear and important discussion of what today’s brain science can and cannot deliver for society. As a neuroscientist, I confess that I also enjoyed their persuasive skewering of hucksters whose misuse of technology in the courtroom and elsewhere is potentially damaging not only to justice but also to the public understanding of science.”—Dr. Steven E. Hyman, Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Brainwashed challenges the much-hyped claim that neuroscience will transform everything from marketing to the legal system to our ideas of blameworthiness and free will. Satel and Lilienfeld bring much needed skeptical intelligence to this field, giving neuroscience its due while recognizing its limitations. This is an invaluable contribution to one of our most contested debates about the ability of science to transform society.”—Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law, George Washington University and Legal Affairs Editor, The New Republic

 

Seven Ways Neuroscience Aids Law

ABSTRACT: Rapid advances in neuroscience have raised hopes in law, perhaps inevitably, that new techniques for revealing brain function may help to answer perennial questions about the sources, limits, and implications of human behavior, mental states, and psychology. As a consequence, lawyers have sharply increased proffers of neuroscientific evidence in both civil and criminal litigation, and have also invoked neuroscience as relevant to many doctrinal and policy reforms. These new developments make it essential for just legal systems to evaluate and separate legitimate from illegitimate uses of neuroscience. As part of that effort, this forthcoming essay identifies and illustrates seven distinct contexts in which neuroscience – skeptically evaluated but also carefully understood – can be useful to law. The essay is based on a talk delivered at The Vatican, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 2012.

Source: Jones, Owen D., Seven Ways Neuroscience Aids Law (June 15, 2013). Neurosciences and the Human Person: New Perspectives on Human Activities (A. Battro, S. Dehaene & W. Singer, eds.) Scripta Varia 121, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican City, 2013, Forthcoming; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 13-28. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2280500.

 

Neuroscience, Mental Privacy, and the Law

ABSTRACT: Will brain science be used by the government to access the most private of spaces — our minds — against our wills? Such scientific tools would have tremendous privacy implications if the government suddenly used brain science to more effectively read minds during police interrogations, criminal trials, and even routine traffic stops. Pundits and scholars alike have thus explored the constitutional protections that citizens, defendants, and witnesses would require to be safe from such mind searching.

Future-oriented thinking about where brain science may lead us can make for great entertainment and can also be useful for forward-thinking policy development. But only to a point. In this Article, I reconsider these concerns about the use of brain science to infer mental functioning. The primary message of this Article is straightforward: “Don’t panic!” Current constitutional protections are sufficiently nimble to allow for protection against involuntary government machine-aided neuroimaging mind reading. The chief challenge emerging from advances in brain science is not the insidious collection of brain data, but how brain data is (mis)used and (mis)interpreted in legal and policy settings by the government and private actors alike.

The Article proceeds in five parts. Part I reviews the use of neuroscientific information in legal settings generally, discussing both the recent rise of neurolaw as well as an often overlooked history of brain science and law that stretches back decades. Part II evaluates concerns about mental privacy and argues for distinguishing between the inferences to be drawn from the data and the methods by which the data is collected. Part III assesses current neuroscience techniques for lie detection and mind reading. Part IV then evaluates the relevant legal protections available in the criminal justice system. I argue that the weight of scholarly opinion is correct: The Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment likely both provide protections against involuntary use of machine-aided neuroimaging mind reading evidence. Part V explores other possible machine-aided neuroimaging mind reading contexts where these protections might not apply in the same way. The Article then briefly concludes.

Source: 36 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 653-713 (2013). By Francis X. Shen.

Read full paper at Social Science Research Network or the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Steve Pinker and Josh Buckholtz discuss the neuroscience of violence on PBS special “After Newtown”

As the American public struggles to make sense of the December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the scientific community has been called upon to discuss what we know about the neuroscience of violence and its relationship to such disturbing acts.

Harvard Psychologists Steve Pinker and Joshua Buckholtz, a CLBB faculty member, appear on the PBS special “After Newtown” to talk about the neuroscience of violence and its relationship to mass killings.

Watch NOVA: Neuroscience of Violence on PBS. See more from After Newtown.