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The fields of science and the law pervade modern society, and yet largely exist in separate spheres. Where scientists seek truth, the law seeks justice, two laudable goals, but which often overlap only marginally. Clearly the law works with different objectives, values, and timetables than does science. And science can never say what is fair and just. However, in today’s technological world, science has become, and will forevermore be, a legal tool for justice.

In 1991, using powerful magnets and “sewer pipe, wire, epoxy, and finger tapping,”* a few research groups converged on the idea of utilizing the magnetic resonance properties of gray matter to image the active, thinking human brain—what the world now knows as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Since then, cognitive neuroscience has developed apace, with an explosion of ingenious techniques and sophisticated tools. Each new advance is greeted with a chorus of scholarly and popular speculation on its potential application to other arenas of human endeavor. Discussions about the ‘promise of neuroscience’ are often tinged with a mixture of hope and fear. Nowhere is this ambivalence more evident than in the courts, as conjecture runs rampant about the legal impact of this research, stoked by claims that neuroscience may soon detect liars, objectively determine criminal responsibility, quantify suffering, and predict violence. But is neuroscience ready for courtroom use? Does brain imaging permit us to measure a person’s feelings, thoughts, and intentions? Can jurors understand and effectively weigh neuroscientific evidence? Please join host David Faigman along with Dr. Kent Kiehl of the University of New Mexico and Professor Amanda Pustilnik of the University of Maryland and Harvard University to discuss the fascinating and wide-ranging challenges posed by the use of contemporary neuroscience in the courtroom.

Peer inside the thinking brain, using state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging. Scientists Gary Glover and John Desmond of the Richard M. Lucas Center for Imaging at Stanford University conduct cognitive tests on an Exploratorium staffer. Imaging tools display the active areas of the brain in real time.