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October 10, 2007
$10M for New MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project
“Neuroscience could have an impact on the legal system that is as dramatic as DNA testing,” MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton said. “Neuroscientists need to understand law, and lawyers need to understand neuroscience." Putting their money where it counts, the MacArthur Foundation has funded The Law and Neuroscience Project to the tune of $10M for the next three years. The project includes three research networks on these central aspects of criminal responsibility: diminished brains, addiction, and medically normal decision-making. Each network is co-directed by a neuroscientist and a legal expert.
Proponents of neuroscientific evidence say it can help make the judicial system more accurate and less biased on matters of guilt, punishment, and treatment, on the detection of lies and bias, and in the prediction of criminal behavior. They believe the result could be less crime and fewer people in prisons. Skeptics fear that brain-imaging technology poses a threat to privacy and notions of personal responsibility. Both scientists and legal scholars warn that failing to properly integrate neuroscience and law could harm the legal system by sending the wrong people to prison, and by creating skepticism about some of the law’s basic assumptions.
“Neuroscientific evidence has already been used to persuade jurors in sentencing decisions, and courts have admitted brain-imaging evidence during criminal trials to support pleas of insanity,” said Michael Gazzaniga, co-director of the project. “Without a solid, mutual understanding of each others’ fields, lawyers and judges cannot respond in an informed way to developments in neuroscience, and scientists cannot properly advise lawyers or recognize the legal relevance of their current and future research.”
The Gruter Institute will lead the education and outreach work under the grant, overseeing numerous yearly conferences aimed at educating state and federal judges and others in the legal arena about neuroscientific findings relevant to the law. This agenda has been a long time coming and the Gruter Institute has played a major role over the past two decades in cultivating these important memes. Kudos to Gruter and the rest of the scholars involved in helping us prepare for our emerging neurosociety.
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