Monday, August 27, 2012

The mis-use of Science: PseudoNeuroscience sways judges' sentencing.

One sees frequent discussions in neuroscience journals (like this one in Trends in Cognitive Sciences) over whether, and to what extent, neuroscience should influence public policy. Does the willingness on of some behavioral scientists to translate the legal and policy implications of their work really help, or does this represent growing misuse of neuroscience to attach scientific authority to policy, plus a clutch of neuroscientists trying to overstate their findings for a taste of power? Such debate makes studies like this one of of Aspinwall et al. very relvant:
We tested whether expert testimony concerning a biomechanism of psychopathy increases or decreases punishment. In a nationwide experiment, U.S. state trial judges (N = 181) read a hypothetical case (based on an actual case) where the convict was diagnosed with psychopathy. Evidence presented at sentencing in support of a biomechanical cause of the convict's psychopathy significantly reduced the extent to which psychopathy was rated as aggravating and significantly reduced sentencing (from 13.93 years to 12.83 years). Content analysis of judges' reasoning indicated that even though the majority of judges listed aggravating factors (86.7%), the biomechanical evidence increased the proportion of judges listing mitigating factors (from 29.7 to 47.8%). Our results contribute to the literature on how biological explanations of behavior figure into theories of culpability and punishment.

1 comment:

  1. The problem is that the judicial system has become nothing more and nothing less than a punishment system

    one would like to imagine that if person X appears to be a threat to people in society that that society will do what is most humane to remove that threat

    it would not matter then if X was the way he was because he was "evil" or "sick" - there would not be any need really to try and find reasons for his behavior - the society in which he exists would seek only to prevent him doing further harm

    but our system seems now to be one of revenge and payment - seeking to satisfy the lust for revenge by injured parties and recognizing that if you do bad things and pay for them you can then go free as if both crime and reason for crime are washed away

    just as, when a corporate entity commits a crime, instead of that entity being locked up to protect the public it has harmed

    we just have it pay a fine and let everything continue as before

    it's all very sad in a way