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

Why More Scientists are Needed in the Public Square

Janet Napolitano is the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and current president of the University of California system.

By Janet Napolitano | The Conversation | October 13, 2015

In this presidential election season, one thing is certain: candidates will rarely – if ever –

be asked what they would do to keep this nation at the forefront of science and innovation.

That’s a shame.

The public dialogue about science is perhaps the most vital and most fraught national conversation not taking place in our country, and the ramifications are profound.

Ultimately, the way we address science and innovation will determine what our children learn in school, what college graduates bring to the larger world, how public lands and natural resources are cared for and whether people receive adequate health care. And the list goes on.

As the president of one of our country’s leading research university systems, I believe it is now incumbent on the academic community to ensure that the work and voices of researchers are front and center in the public square.

Continue reading »

Steve Hyman on Translational Neuroscience

Hyman_150x150Steven Hyman is a co-editor of the new book, Translational Neuroscience: Toward New Therapies, published by the MIT Press. This volume, composed of insights from expert contributors, takes a look at the current state of translational neuroscience, challenges it faces, and effective ways forward. In overview:

Today, translational neuroscience faces significant challenges. Available therapies to treat brain and nervous system disorders are extremely limited and dated, and further development has effectively ceased. Disinvestment by the private sector occurred just as promising new technologies in genomics, stem cell biology, and neuroscience emerged to offer new possibilities. In this volume, experts from both academia and industry discuss how novel technologies and reworked translation concepts can create a more effective translational neuroscience.

The contributors consider such topics as using genomics and neuroscience for better diagnostics and biomarker identification; new approaches to disease based on stem cell technology and more careful use of animal models; and greater attention to human biology and what it will take to make new therapies available for clinical use. They conclude with a conceptual roadmap for an effective and credible translational neuroscience—one informed by a disease-focused knowledge base and clinical experience.

Dr. Hyman is also a featured contributor to the new book, Free Will and the Brain: Neuroscientific, Philosophical, and Legal Perspectives, edited by Walter Glannon and published by Cambridge University Press. His chapter, “Neurobiology Collides with Moral and Criminal Responsibility: The Result is Double Vision”, falls under Part V of the book, dealing with the legal implications of neuroscience, and including a chapter from Dr. Stephen Morse.

Order Translational Neuroscience: Toward New Therapies and Free Will and the Brain today!

WATCH – “Found in Translation: Why Science Needs Storytelling (and Vice Versa) – an Evening with Malcolm Gladwell”

Click to view event poster.

Click to view event poster.

On Thursday, January 8, 2015 at Peterson Hall in New York City, CLBB presented “Why Science Needs Storytelling (and Vice Versa), – an Evening with Malcolm Gladwell,” a conversation between The New Yorker author and Harvard psychiatric geneticist Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD. The two thinkers discussed the difficulties of translating scientific research for general-audience publications, the gap between scientific consensus and public understanding, how storytelling can help, and why it’s more crucial than ever.

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers — The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and one of the Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers. Gladwell has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He has won a national magazine award and been honored by the American Psychological Society and the American Sociological Society. He was previously a reporter for The Washington Post. Continue reading »

Why Police Lineups Will Never Be Perfect

By Virginia Hughes | The Atlantic | October 2, 2014

One night in 1984, a man broke into 22-year-old Jennifer Thompson’s apartment, threatened her at knifepoint, and raped her. While it was happening she tried to memorize everything about him—his  face, hair, clothes, body type. Later that day, she recounted those details to a police sketch artist.

Two days later, a detective showed Thompson a photo lineup of six men. She ruled out four of them right away, and stared at the other two pictures for four or five minutes. Finally she chose one. “Yeah. This is the one,” she said, as recounted in the book Picking Cotton. “I think this is the guy.”

“You ‘think’ that’s the guy?” one of the detectives asked her.

“It’s him,” she said.

“You’re sure?” asked another detective.

“Positive.”

She wrote her initials and date on the back of the photo, then asked them, “Did I do OK?”

“You did great, Ms. Thompson.”

The man she identified, Ronald Cotton, was convicted and sentenced to a life in prison. More than 10 years later, a DNA test revealed that Thompson had pointed to the wrong guy. Cotton was innocent.

Eyewitness testimony is hugely influential in criminal cases. And yet, brain research has shown again and again that human memory is unreliable: Every time a memory is recalled it becomes vulnerable to change. Confirming feedback—such as a detective telling a witness she “did great”—seems to distort memories, making them feel more accurate with each recollection. Since the start of the Innocence Project 318 cases have been overturned thanks to DNA testing. Eyewitness mistakes played a part in nearly three-quarters of them.

Continue reading »

Law and Neuroscience

By Owen Jones, Rene Marois, Martha Farah, and Hank Greely | The Journal of Neuroscience | November 2013

Abstract

Law and neuroscience seem strange bedfellows. But the engagement of law with neuroscientific evidence was inevitable. For one thing, the effectiveness of legal systems in regulating behavior and meting out justice often depends on weighing evidence about how and why a person behaved as he or she did. And these are things that neuroscience can sometimes illuminate. For another, lawyers are ethically bound to champion their clients’ interests. So they remain alert for new, relevant, or potentially persuasive information, such as neuroscience may at times offer, that could help to explain or contextualize behavior of their clients. In light of this, and in the wake of remarkable growth in and visibility of neuroscientific research, a distinct field of Law & Neuroscience (sometimes called “neurolaw”) has emerged in barely a decade.

Whether this engagement is ultimately more for better or for worse (there will be both) will depend in large measure on the effectiveness of transdisciplinary partnerships between neuroscientists and legal scholars. How can they best help the legal system to understand both the promise and the perils of using neuroscientific evidence in legal proceedings? And how can they help legal decision-makers draw only legally and scientifically sound inferences about the relationships between particular neuroscientific evidence and particular behaviors?

In this article, we highlight some efforts to establish and expand such partnerships. We identify some of the key reasons why neuroscience may be useful to law, providing examples along the way. In doing so, we hope to further stimulate interdisciplinary communication and collaborative research in this area.

Read the full paper here.