News: A recent publication “Neuroscientists in Court” by Owen Jones, Anthony Wagner, David Faigman, and Marcus Raichle was featured in the October 2013 isssue of Nature. View it here.
PI: David Faigman, MA, JD
Other Collaborators: Paul Appelbaum, MD (Columbia, Psychiatry); Josh Buckholtz, PhD (Harvard, Psychology/Neuroscience); Nancy Gertner, JD (Harvard, Law); Peter Imrey, PhD (Cleveland Clinic, Statistics); John Monahan, PhD (Univ. of Virginia, Psychology and Law); Marc Raichle, PhD (Wash. U. St. Louis, Neuroscience); Valerie Reyna, PhD (Cornell, Psychology); Chris Slobogin, LLM, (Vanderbilt, Criminal Law), and Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MD (UCSF, Environmental Health).
Funders: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Research Network on Law and Neuroscience
Project Objective: The G2I Project has created an interdisciplinary Committee composed of nationally recognized scholars to study and make recommendations regarding a key issue – perhaps the key issue – where law and science meet: the challenge of translating scientific findings based on group data so that they can be used in an effective and scientifically robust way to make decisions about individuals.
Project Description: Scientists build their knowledge of the natural and social worlds by collecting data from groups and making inferences at the group or population level. Lawyers are largely concerned with how the natural and social worlds impact or might help to decide individual cases. Hence, whereas scientists typically study individuals in order to make inferences about group differences, lawyers in the courtroom typically study group differences in order to make inferences about individuals. This issue – reasoning from group data to individual decision making (“G2I”) – is a central and pervasive characteristic of the courtroom use of scientific research. Yet the G2I issue has not been the subject of systematic study or analysis, by either the scientific or legal communities. This project seeks to remedy this neglect by assembling a Committee of scientists and legal scholars to study the issue (“G2I Committee”) in regard to the use of neuroscience in criminal and quasi-criminal cases, and make recommendations for best practices for integrating scientific research into legal decision making.
Although the G2I issue in legal settings has received some scholarly attention, most of this work has concentrated on purely statistical inference. Such treatments are limited to the isolated statistical question of deriving the probability that an effect of interest is attributable to a particular cause based on the probability that the cause produces that effect. And much of this statistical attention has been limited to specific scientific approaches, such as neuroimaging studies of cognition (Miller et al., 2002), genetic associations to psychiatric illness, or clinical predictions of violence (Hart et al., 2007). Scholars who have begun to explore the G2I issue within the broader context of the law have, so far, mainly offered only tentative analyses. Indeed, most of these explorations are labeled by the authors themselves as merely preliminary and involving small corners of an enormous subject.
Similarly, courts have given the issue of G2I little sustained attention. While some courts have recognized the disconnect between the group data orientation of science and the need for individualized judgments in the courtroom, this has occurred mainly in the context of medical causation. Outside of this one context, the courts have largely approached this subject in a slapdash way and have not provided a principled basis for determining when, and how, scientific expert opinion that is valid at the group level should be applied to individual cases.
Given the pervasiveness of the G2I issue where law and science intersect, it is somewhat surprising that it has not received greater attention from scholars and courts. The best explanation for this lack of attention appears to lie in the seeming intractability of the problem. In particular, any comprehensive and sophisticated treatment of G2I would require extensive knowledge of research methods and statistics across a wide range of technological and scientific areas. In addition, any such treatment of the subject would demand a high level of legal sophistication, across a broad swath of the law, including product liability, medical causation, criminal law, constitutional law and so forth.
The G2I Project seeks to make the issue manageable, if not tractable, by assembling a trans-disciplinary Committee of scholars to explore the G2I issue in the context of the use of neuroscience in criminal and quasi-criminal cases. This Committee is modeled on National Research Council committees convened by the National Academies of Science. The Committee is composed of experts in the law, neuroscience, social and behavioral sciences, environmental health, and statistics.
In summary, the G2I Committee will intensively study the issue of reasoning from group data in science to individual decision making in the law pursuant to the best standards in science and in light of the needs and demands of the law. In pursuing this mandate, the G2I Committee will consider state-of-the-art scientific models for reasoning from group data to individual decisions and, in all likelihood, add to this literature itself. Moreover, the Committee will examine current practices in the courts and consider alternative approaches that might be pursued. The Committee’s objective, then, is to meet the challenge of translating scientific findings based on group data so that they can be used in an effective and scientifically robust way to make decisions about individuals