Judging Mechanistic Neuroscience: A Preliminary Conceptual-Analytic Framework for Evaluating Scientific Evidence in the Courtroom

Psychology, Crime and Law (00):00-00 (2018)
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The use of neuroscientific evidence in criminal trials has been steadily increasing. Despite progress made in recent decades in understanding the mechanisms of psychological and behavioral functioning, neuroscience is still in an early stage of development and its potential for influencing legal decision-making is highly contentious. Scholars disagree about whether or how neuroscientific evidence might impact prescriptions of criminal culpability, particularly in instances in which evidence of an accused’s history of mental illness or brain abnormality is offered to support a plea of not criminally responsible. In the context of these debates, philosophers and legal scholars have identified numerous problems with admitting neuroscientific evidence in legal contexts. To date, however, less has been said about the challenges of evaluating the evidence upon which integrative mechanistic explanations that bring together evidence from different areas of neuroscience are based. As we explain, current criteria for evaluating such evidence to determine its admissibility in legal contexts are inadequate. Appealing to literature in the philosophy of scientific experimentation and theoretical work in the social, cognitive and behavioral sciences, we lay the groundwork for reforming these criteria and identify some of the implications of modifying them.

Author Profiles

Jacqueline Anne Sullivan
University of Western Ontario
Emily Baron
University of Toronto, St. George Campus


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