Sixty minutes goes by in the blink of an eye. It’s barely enough time to accomplish much of anything, really. But by the next tick of the long hand, two Americans will have lost their lives to acts of violence. In that same hour, 250 more will need medical treatment for a violence-related injury. As the hours pass, so mount the costs: on average $1.3 Million for each violent fatality and $80,000 for each non-fatal assault. Each year, nearly 3% of our country’s gross domestic product is lost due to violence.
As these staggering numbers make clear, violent crime is one of the most pressing public health problems of our age. Scientists have a duty to address large-scale social problems like violent crime, and scientific research aimed at preventing antisocial behavior would seem likely to provide a particularly good return on taxpayer investment. But to what extent can science actually help? I believe there is a considerable disconnect between the aims of science and the goals of criminal law, and that should lead us to be cautious. Continue reading »