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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Social Scientists Left Out of MacArthur Effort on Law and Neuroscience

The MacArthur Foundation recently awarded $10 million over three years to "The Law and Neuroscience Project," hosted at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The project will be pursued by three "research networks." I am not qualified to speak to the organization and personnel of the first two, "Diminished Brains" and "Addiction and Antisocial Behavior," but I do know quite a bit about the final research topic, "Decision-making by criminals, judges and juries."
The network on decision-making is currently comprised of noted neuroscientists, lawyers and judges. I have no doubt that all of these folks will have much to contribute to the discussion. What I am at a loss to comprehend is why there are no psychologists, sociologists, political scientists or economists on this team, given that these social scientists have contributed virtually everything we have learned over the past century about criminal, judicial and juridical behavior.
How can you study judicial behavior without including Lee Epstein, Jeff Segal or Pablo Spiller? How can you investigate decision-making by jurors without consulting Valerie Hans, Reid Hastie or Ted Eisenberg? It seems foolhardy to explore the contours of criminal conduct without input from Steve Levitt, Michael Block or John Donohue.
I was a full-time academic not-so-long ago. My two major research programs involved studying (1) judicial decision-making and coalition formation, and (2) the relationship between procedural rules and jury decision-making. I didn't have to dig deep into my archives of working papers to identify the names listed above. I know each of these people personally. The point is not to highlight how many drinking buddies I had at academic conferences, but rather how easy it was to pull up a bunch of names of imminently qualified social scientists who could make major contributions to this research effort.
I am delighted that the MacArthur foundation has sponsored such a fascinating and important research project. I only hope that the project directors don't try to reinvent the wheel -- or worse, ignore its existence altogether.

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