December 2011

Narrative, free will, and legal responsibility: reading Cathy Gere reading Michael Gazzaniga

Michael Gazzaniga suggests that his finding that we construct post-hoc narratives potentially undermines the criminal requirement of mens rea (the “guilty mind” element of most crimes): if our actions are in many situations automatic, and our explanations of them–our decision-making moral sense, as it were–only post-hoc, then “‘My brain made me do it’ threatens to become a get-out-of-jail-free card available to everyone, not just to sufferers of fetal alcohol syndrome or schizophrenia.”

The tech transfer process: buffering science from commercialism

Technology transfer offices at universities are key players in the process of putting technology to work. They facilitate the sometimes difficult translation of academic discoveries into private, saleable technology. The offices also serve as a buffer between the demands of private enterprise and the Mertonian ideals of the academic “ivory tower,” and the technology transfer process reflects this.

Measuring the impact of technology on the law

It’s difficult to come up with more quantitative measurements to look at how technology has impacted law. One could look at the development of new technologies (via patent applications, perhaps?) and then look to see how soon afterwards the invention began to show up in legal cases. Another interesting idea would be to see if changes in technology–the development of new citation systems, more rapid dissemination of decisions and publications, and later the creation of electronic repositories such as Lexis and Westlaw–had any impact on the way lawyers and judges developed law.

Juries and scientific expertise

In the American system (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, in all countries following the Anglo-American legal approach), science and scientific evidence emerges and is interpreted through the actions of the parties involved. Expert witnesses testify for a particular side, and are employed by a particular side.