India’s use of brain scans in courts is an affront to science

The new technology is, to its critics, Orwellian. Others view it as a silver bullet against terrorism that could render waterboarding and torture obsolete. Some scientists predict the end of lying as we know it.

Well, that would confound American politics, eh?

Now, well before any consensus on the technology’s readiness, India has become the first country to convict someone of a crime relying on evidence from this controversial machine: a brain scanner that produces images of the human mind in action and is said to reveal signs that a suspect remembers details of the crime in question…

The technologies, generally regarded as promising but unproved, have yet to be widely accepted as evidence — except in India, where in recent years judges have begun to admit brain scans. But it was only in June, in a murder case in Pune, in Maharashtra State, that a judge explicitly cited a scan as proof that the suspect’s brain held “experiential knowledge” about the crime that only the killer could possess, sentencing her to life in prison.

Psychologists and neuroscientists in the United States, which has been at the forefront of brain-based lie detection, variously called India’s application of the technology to legal cases “fascinating,” “ridiculous,” “chilling” and “unconscionable.” (While attempts have been made in the United States to introduce findings of similar tests into court cases, these generally have been by defense lawyers trying to show the mental impairment of the accused, not by prosecutors trying to convict.)

I agree with the conclusions reached by the article’s author, Anand Giridharadas.

We have enough crap pseudoscience leading the Bal Masque of politics around the United States and other nations. Validation by peer review and independent study is a prerequisite before nations switch on judicial induction to shuttle defendants off to prison.

One thought on “India’s use of brain scans in courts is an affront to science

  1. Morey says:

    Others view it as a silver bullet against terrorism

    We might as well get used to the idea that every bad idea that can’t withstand scrutiny is going to be promoted as the silver bullet against terrorism.

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