02 June 2010

Judging brain scans

I knew the day would come, but wasn’t sure when.

Yesterday, a court ruled against using fMRI data as a lie detector as evidence in a criminal case (see also here).

Several other commentators elsewhere seem pleased with this ruling; I’m tempted to say overly so, at times.

A couple of things are worth noting.

First, fMRI was being used as a lie detector in this case. But fMRI’s potential scope reaches was beyond just lie detection. There are many reasons why information gleaned from a brain scan could be relevant in a court setting. For instance, check out this example of a mock court case where a brain scan is used, not to determine the truth of falsehood of specific statements, but to suggest something about a defendant’s ability to control and plan.

Second, the research on fMRI is ongoing, as are technical improvements. While this ruling says that fMRI as a lie detector is not admissible for now, I wonder when, if ever, people will have another go at getting it admitted.

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