Andrea Lavazza and Mario De Caro have published, "Not so Fast. On Some Bold Neuroscientific Claims Concerning Human Agency," in our partner journal Neuroethics (it's published in the "Online First" area).
Here is the abstract:
According to a widespread view, a complete explanatory reduction of all aspects of the human mind to the electro-chemical functioning of the brain is at hand and will certainly produce vast and positive cultural, political and social consequences. However, notwithstanding the astonishing advances generated by the neurosciences in recent years for our understanding of the mechanisms and functions of the brain, the application of these findings to the specific but crucial issue of human agency can be considered a “pre-paradigmatic science” (in Thomas Kuhn’s sense). This implies that the situation is, at the same time, intellectually stimulating and methodologically confused. More specifically—because of the lack of a solid, unitary and coherent methodological framework as to how to connect neurophysiology and agency—it frequently happens that tentative approaches, bold but very preliminary claims and even clearly flawed interpretations of experimental data are taken for granted. In this article some examples of such conceptual confusions and intellectual hubris will be presented, which derive from the most recent literature at the intersection between neurosciences, on the one hand, and philosophy, politics and social sciences, on the other hand. It will also be argued that, in some of these cases, hasty and over-ambitious conclusions may produce negative social and political consequences. The general upshot will be that very much has still to be clarified as to what and how neurosciences can tell us about human agency and that, in the meantime, intellectual and methodological caution is to be recommended.
Our partner journal, Neuroethics, has issued the following call for papers. Please direct inquiries to the issue's guest editor:
Call for Papers
ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS OF DEEP BRAIN STIMULATION
SPECIAL ISSUE OF SPRINGER’S JOURNAL NEUROETHICS
Guest Editor: Jens Clausen
Deep brain stimulation is a powerful treatment for motor symptoms in patients suffering from
end-stage Parkinson’s disease. On the one hand, many patients who had no medical option
left benefit enormously from this technological approach. On the other hand, the great power
of brain stimulation also causes side effects, which are sometimes severe. Weighing benefits
against risk is common in every medical intervention. What are the specific risks of DBS?
How should they be weighed against the benefits? Is there anything new in the ethics of this
technological intervention? What can be learned for the ethics of DBS from more familiar
brain interventions like pharmacological treatments?
For DBS electrodes are implanted into deep structures of the brain and stimulation has to be
functionally integrated into neuronal processes. How is the self-concept of the human being as
an embodied being influenced by the incorporation of technological devices into brain
processes? Does chronic stimulation of the brain affect autonomous decision-making? What
would be the consequences of acting under brain stimulation for holding someone responsible
for his/her action?
Although the exact mechanisms of how DBS works are not known, the great successes in
treating motor impairments encourage expanding DBS application to other diseases. Research
on DBS in psychiatric disorders including major depression and obsessive compulsive
disorder are well under way. Even Alzheimer’s, obesity, minimal conscious state and
alcoholism are under discussion as a target for DBS application. Further research directions
are expected. How should one address ethical requirements for the clinical research trials?
Further ideas concerning the ethical implications DBS could have (not mentioned here) are
very welcome. Submit your research online to this forthcoming special issue of Neuroethics!
• Length of the manuscript: approximately 6000 words
• Deadline for submission: 1 May 2010
• Notification of reviewing process: 15 July 2010
• Final Version: 15 August 2010
• Scheduled Publication: Early 2011
For further details and to meet the formal criteria for submission to Springer’s Neuroethics
Journal, it is strongly recommended to visit:
SSRN recently distributed the following information about new brain-related abstracting journals:
LAW, BRAIN & BEHAVIOR JOURNALS
Law is concerned with organizing and constraining human behavior. As a result, some model of human behavior, implicit or explicit, underlies legal principles and analysis. Papers in LAW, BRAIN & BEHAVIOR employ conceptual and empirical findings from various disciplines, including neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and experimental psychology, to shed light on how we can best understand law and and use it to guide human behavior in desirable directions.
LAW & EVOLUTION
View Papers: http://www.ssrn.com/link/Law-Evolution.html
Editor: Jeffrey Evans Stake, Robert A. Lucas Chair of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Description: This journal distributes working and accepted paper abstracts with a focus on the intersection of law and evolution in a number of domains. First and foremost, evolutionary psychology and biology provide a model of human behavior that can be helpful in understanding legal rules, critiquing them, and suggesting reforms. Second, understanding the evolution of the biological world is important for constructing legal regimes to address a wide variety of issues, from the environment to medicine. Third, ideas can and often do replicate, becoming "memes," and their evolution has implications for the law, both because many areas of the law deal with ideas and because laws and legal institutions are themselves evolving replicators. This journal accepts working papers, essays, published articles, experimental and research reports, and other scholarly treatments of topics within the intersection of LAW AND EVOLUTION.
LAW & NEUROSCIENCE
View Papers: http://www.ssrn.com/link/Law-Neuroscience.html
Editor: Oliver Goodenough, Professor, Vermont Law School, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Description: This journal distributes working and accepted paper abstracts with a focus on law and the emerging science of the brain sharing a basic preoccupation: understanding the nature of human thought and action. Law has been had an implicit science of mind; cognitive neuroscience is an explicit version. A sustained academic dialog between these disciplines will lead to advances on each side of the conversation. In particular we desire to increase access to, as well as understanding of, human action. By access we mean an actionable pathway to improving human action. Law will be enriched with better models of thought and behavior and with a tool-kit of applications and interventions for such difficult problems as addiction, mental health, and legal procedure itself. Cognitive science will benefit from the challenge of tackling problems whose solutions could have significant consequences for justice and social welfare. The abstracting journal LAW AND NEUROSCIENCE provides a forum for conducting this exchange. It will accept working papers, essays, published articles, experimental and research reports, and other scholarly treatments of topics at the intersection of law, neuroscience and related disciplines, such as cognitive psychology, economics, and behavioral biology.
LAW & PROSOCIALITY
View Papers: http://www.ssrn.com/link/Law-Prosociality.html
Editor: Lynn Stout, Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law
Description: This journal distributes working and accepted paper abstracts covering various aspects of the many interactions between law and prosocial behavior. Extensive empirical evidence demonstrates that rather than always maximizing their own material self-interest, people often behave prosocially by sacrificing their own material welfare in order to help, and sometimes in order to harm, other people. For example, people often follow legal rules, obey social norms, and show both trust and trustworthiness, even when external sanctions are weak or absent. Papers in LAW AND PROSOCIALITY use data and evidence gathered from neuroscience, experimental and behavioral economics and psychology, and other life and social sciences to shed light on the empirical phenomenon of prosocial behavior and to examine how prosocial behavior depends on, reinforces, and interacts with law and public policy. Legal scholars, behavioral economists, psychologists, policy experts, and other researchers and scholars are encouraged to submit papers that investigate the empirical phenomenon of prosocial behaviors, including behaviors like trust, altruism, cooperation, and altruistic punishment, and their relation to law and social order.
LAW, COGNITION, & DECISIONMAKING
View Papers: http://www.ssrn.com/link/Law-Cognition-Decisionmaking.html
Editor: Russell Korobkin, Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law
Description: This journal distributes working and accepted paper abstracts at the intersection of research on behavioral decisionmaking and law. Evaluations of existing or potential legal policy require an understanding of how law affects behavior, and an understanding of behavior in turn requires insight into how individuals process information and make decisions. Papers in LAW, COGNITION, and DECISIONMAKING use knowledge of how humans process information to render judgments, form preferences, and make choices for the purpose of informing descriptive and normative analysis of law.
Check out "It Takes Two: Ethical Dualism in the Vegetative State" by Carolyn Suchy-Dicey in the most recent issue of Neuroethics. I'm pleased to report that Carolyn will be guest blogging here in January:
Adam Shriver will be guest blogging here in December. In the meantime, check out his article (which has been discussed in popular media all over the place) in the newest issue of Neuroethics:
Abstract: Though the vegetarian movement sparked by Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation has achieved some success, there is more animal suffering caused today due to factory farming than there was when the book was originally written. In this paper, I argue that there may be a technological solution to the problem of animal suffering in intensive factory farming operations. In particular, I suggest that recent research indicates that we may be very close to, if not already at, the point where we can genetically engineer factory-farmed livestock with a reduced or completely eliminated capacity to suffer. In as much as animal suffering is the principal concern that motivates the animal welfare movement, this development should be of central interest to its adherents. Moreover, I will argue that all people concerned with animal welfare should agree that we ought to replace the animals currently used in factory farming with animals whose ability to suffer is diminished if we are able to do so.
From Nature News:
An Italian court has cut the sentence given to a convicted murderer by a year because he has genes linked to violent behaviour — the first time that behavioural genetics has affected a sentence passed by a European court. But researchers contacted by Nature have questioned whether the decision was based on sound science.
And some more:
During the trial, Bayout's lawyer, Tania Cattarossi, asked the court to take into account that her client may have been mentally ill at the time of the murder. After considering three psychiatric reports, the judge, Paolo Alessio Vernì, partially agreed that Bayout's psychiatric illness was a mitigating factor and sentenced him to 9 years and 2 months in prison — around three years less than Bayout would have received had he been deemed to be of sound mind.
But at an appeal hearing in May this year, Pier Valerio Reinotti, a judge of the Court of Appeal in Trieste, asked forensic scientists for a new independent psychiatric report to decide whether he should commute the sentence further.
For the new report, Pietro Pietrini, a molecular neuroscientist at Italy's University of Pisa, and Giuseppe Sartori, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Padova, conducted a series of tests and found abnormalities in brain-imaging scans and in five genes that have been linked to violent behaviour — including the gene encoding the neurotransmitter-metabolizing enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA).
Law professor Nita Farahany is quoted here:
"The point is that behavioural genetics is not there yet, we cannot explain individual behaviour, only large population statistics," says Nita Farahany of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who specializes in the legal and ethical issues arising from behavioural genetics and neuroscience.
And some of her work mentioned here:
According to Farahany, who updates a personal database on sentences passed in the United States, in the past five years there have been at least 200 cases where lawyers have attempted to use genetic evidence to support the idea their clients' were predisposed to violent behaviour, depression or drug or alcohol abuse. In Britain, there have been at least 20 such cases in the past five years.
Recently posted to SSRN:Stanford Technology Law Review, Forthcoming
MICHAEL L. PERLIN, New York Law School
This paper considers the implications of neuroimaging in three under discussed aspects of criminal procedure - the implications of Ake v. Oklahoma (an indigent defendant's access to expert testimony) in cases where neuroimaging tests might be critical, (2) the defendant's competency to consent to the imposition of a neuroimaging test or examination; and (3) the impact of medications - specifically, antipsychotic medications - on a defendant's brain at the time that such a test is performed.
Given the warning signals that have been raised by commentators as to the potentiality of juror misuse and misinterpretation of neuroimaging testimony, it is critical that we take seriously the issues raised here. I conclude that there are hidden landmines inevitably present when we think about the use of neuroimaging in criminal trials - landmines that go can infect the fairness of the trial process itself.
If an indigent criminal defendant is refused access to an independent expert in an area where jurors may uncritically accept neuroimaging testimony (because of its visual appeal and its apparent lack of falsifiability), the fairness of the entire trial remains in question. If no attention is paid to the difficult and complex ethical issues that should surface if the question of the defendant's competency to consent to being tested is not raised, trial fairness is a concern. And finally, if we ignore the reality that the neuroimaging evidence shown to jurors may not be an accurate depiction of the defendant's brain at the time of the offense - but rather, a depiction of his brain at a later time when his brain biochemistry has been altered by the imposition of medication - we willfully blind ourselves to the possibility (perhaps "likelihood") that the database presented to the jury is potentially fatally flawed.