Programming Note: Darts and Letters is off and retooling to relaunch in a new format early 2024.

EP51: This is Your Brain on Trial (ft. Andrew Scull, Tess Neal & Roland Nadler)

Imagine reading or watching The Minority Report and thinking of that as a model for the criminal justice system. Well, plenty of forensic types are doing just that. Can you figure out if you are a criminal by scanning your brain? On this episode of Darts and Letters, guest-host Jay Cockburn and our guests explore the study of the criminal mind, from the history of madness, to spotty personality tests, to the emerging neuroscientific frontier.

  • First (@7:23), what do you see in this image? Wrong answer, off to jail! We look at the state of forensic psychology, and how to improve it. Tess Neal is associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University. She studied the quality of hundreds of assessment tools and processes used to understand individuals and found that the quality…varies. A lot.
  • Then, (@24:34) what might neuroscience tell us about criminality – and how dangerous is that as a source of assessment tools? Roland Nadler is a PhD candidate in law at the University of British Columbia and a Darts and Letters researcher. This is Minority Report type stuff and the implications are, to say the least, potentially very disturbing with technologies ripe for abuse, error, and systemic injustice.
  • Finally (@46:08), the history of madness is extraordinary, and it comes with warnings for the current and future of psychological and neuroscientific techniques in the criminal justice system. Andrew Scull is a sociologist and the author of Madness in Civilisation: The Cultural History of Insanity, From the Madhouse to Modern Medicine. He defines madness and guides us through its history throughout the last several hundred years.


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Darts and Letters was hosted and produced this week by Jay Cockburn, with editing from Gordon Katic. Our managing producer is Marc Apollonio. Roland Nadler provided research assistance, and David Moscrop wrote the show notes.

Our theme song and music was created by Mike Barber, our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop, and our marketing was done by Ian Sowden.

This is a production of Cited Media. And we are backed by academic grants that support mobilizing research.. This episode was also a part of a mini-series on the state of forensic science. The scholarly lead on that project is Professor Emma Cunliffe.

Darts and Letters is produced in Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.

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