From over the wires: "Why Blame Me? It Was All My Brain's Fault" published last Wednesday in the Times. Professor Raymond Tallis describes his take on the situation:
The legal profession in America is taking an increasing interest in neuroscience. There is a flourishing academic discipline of “neurolaw” and neurolawyers are penetrating the legal system.
He goes on to critique "neurolaw" for its alleged assistance to defense lawyers for "placing the brain on the stand" (quoted from the Rosen article) and its foundations in determinism. He cautions about "investing millions in 'neurolaw' centres" such as the Vanderbilt program on the basis that "observations of brain activity in the laboratory can explain very few things about us."
Leaving aside the point that neuroscience could be used as aggravating as well as mitigating evidence, even in the pro-determinism-no-responsibility attitude that Tallis ascribes to "neurolaw" and its constituent "brain-blamers," his article and fundamental argument require one very important clarification.
The academic discipline of "neurolaw" has no such agenda (assuming that Tallis is referring to research in "law and neuroscience," which does not use the neologism). In fact, the new interdisciplinary centers and projects are urging caution at all turns in even these earliest stages of exploring the relationships between neuroscience and law. (See, for example, the announcement about the MacArthur Project made in NYC on Oct 9th, referenced below and available on the website as an audio file.) Neuroscientists often come out as the most cautious about the current and future limitations of neuroscience, and there are plenty of skeptics from the legal and philosophical side involved in such work. Neuroscientists cannot be fairly characterized as pushing their findings into the courtroom. Instead, these interdisciplinary projects acknowledge the interest that the law takes in explanations of human behavior, and are investigating how neuroscience data might be useful in refining the law and conceptualizing human behavior, while remaining largely agnostic with respect to aiding either prosecution or defense on the basis of philosophical beliefs about free will or determinism.
Having failed to investigate the nature of the research being conducted at the interface of neuroscience and law, Tallis sets up "neurolaw" as a straw man and knocks it down by calling it "just another branch of neuromythology." Unfortunately, what could have been an interesting, discussion-provoking piece falls flat by reflecting a lack of understanding of the research goals of law and neuroscience initiatives.