Radio: ‘Neurolaw and Order’ on the BBC World Service

9 December 2017
Neurolaw and Order, available now online and as a podcast

The latest findings in neuroscience are increasingly affecting the justice system in America. Owen Jones, professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, explores where neurolaw is making its mark and where the discipline is heading.

One significant finding from MRI scanners is that the adolescent brain continues to develop right into the early- and mid-twenties. The fact that we are not ‘adults’ at age 18 is having big repercussions in the legal system.

In San Francisco, the entire way that young offenders of crimes such as armed robbery up to the age of 25 are treated is adapting to the brain data.

More and more, neuroscientists are testifying in courts, often to mitigate sentences including the death penalty in juveniles. Other times, they highlight rare brain abnormalities that cause violent and antisocial behaviour, which helps justify a lighter sentence.

However, young brains are still malleable. In Wisconsin, brain imaging of juvenile prisoners can detect psychopathic markers. Once identified, staff can employ techniques to de-programme those antisocial traits and rehabilitate prisoners to ready them for, they hope, a crime-free life outside.

And this is simply the first generation of neurolaw – where to next?

Job: Project leader at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics

16 March 2012

Fixed term 12 month contract (to start no later than the beginning of July 2012)
Salary range: £42,995 – £47,986

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics examines the ethical issues raised by advances in biology and medicine. It has achieved an international reputation based on quality, independence and the timeliness of its reports which both stimulate public debate in bioethics and give advice to policy-makers. We are now looking to recruit a Project Leader to supervise the production of a report on novel neurotechnologies that intervene in the brain.

You will undertake research, prepare, organise and support meetings of a Working Party and prepare the final report for publication. You will work with a wide range of academics, professionals and policy-makers.

Candidates will need a sound understanding of both science and ethics; a strong academic background in a relevant discipline; excellent drafting and organisational skills; energy, motivation, and the ability to work independently. The contract is expected to be for 12 months full-time, although the Council will consider alternative working arrangements that will meet the requirements for the post, and is happy to consider filling the role being by means of a secondment.

This is an excellent opportunity for those interested in the high-profile area of bioethics, providing an opportunity to work closely in the development of policy and the promotion of debate in bioethics.

Closing date for applications: 30 March 2012
Interviews: w/c 10 or 16 April

For further information and details on how to apply, please visit our website or email recruitment [at]

Event: Neuroscience and Neuromania

10 May 2011

Tuesday, 14 June 2011
6.30pm – 8.00pm, followed by a drinks reception
The British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1

Professor Raymond Tallis in conversation with Professor Robin Dunbar FBA

Neuroscience is making astounding progress in helping us to understand how the brain works and this will deliver advances in the management of brain disease. Unfortunately, it has a Dark Companion – Neuromania – which is founded on the belief that brain activity is not merely a necessary but a sufficient condition for human consciousness and that consequently our behaviour in every day life can be entirely understood neural terms. This has resulted in wild claims about the potential of neuroscience to cast light on art, to explain economic behaviour, to inform social policy and the justice system,  and even to account for religious belief. The talk will show why such hype is bad for the reputation of neuroscience and may have dangerous consequences.

About the Speakers:

Raymond Tallis trained as a doctor before going on to become Professor of Geriatic Medicine at the University of Manchester. He was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience.

He retired from medicine in 2006 to become a full-time writer. He has published fiction, poetry and over a dozen books of cultural criticism and philosophical anthropology including, most recently, The Kingdom of Infinite Space (2008) and Michelangelo’s Finger (2010).

Robin Dunbar is currently Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford and Director of its Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology.  He is a Fellow of Magdalen College and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1998. He is co-Director of the British Academy’s Centenary Research Project, ‘Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain’, a multi-disciplinary project involving research groups at the Universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Royal Holloway (University of London), Southampton and Kent. His principal research interest is the evolution of sociality, with specific focus on humans, nonhuman primates and ungulates.

Attendance is free, but registration is required for this event. Please register via the British Academy website.

Radio/iPlayer: The medicalisation of misbehaviour

20 March 2011

Are we too willing to excuse bad behaviour as the morally-neutral symptom of newly-defined mental disorders? A combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Clifford Longley, Melanie Phillips and Kenan Malik.

Listen to the 45min program on the BBC iPlayer here.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of American psychiatry, is reported this week to be debating whether to recognise ‘sex addiction’ as a treatable medical condition. Private rehab clinics say that more and more clients are seeking treatment for sex addiction. Those who have already undergone therapy for it include Russell Brand, Tiger Woods and Michael Douglas. So should we tear up the seventh commandment and replace it with ‘If you commit adultery you should seek therapy’? We could replace a few more commandments. In place of ‘Remember the Sabbath’, ‘Thou shalt not covet’, ‘Thou shalt not steal’ and ‘Honour thy father and mother’, we could have ‘Recognise that you may be a workaholic, a shopaholic or a kleptomaniac, or that you may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder.’ If any socially-unacceptable behaviour is a symptom of a condition that can be treated with drugs or therapy or both, where does that leave those quaint old moral terms good and bad, right and wrong? Are we nowadays too willing to excuse bad behaviour as the morally-neutral symptom of some newly-defined mental disorder? Or is medical science finding new ways to diagnose and treat the causes of deviance where traditional morality has failed?

Conference: Situating Mental Illness Between Scientific Certainty and Personal Narrative

20 March 2011

April 28-29th 2011, Berlin, Germany

Contemporary neuroscience reduces mental illness to brain-based operations, instantiating a division between biology and culture, mechanism and context, brain and biography. This has the effect of marginalising a richer, inner-subjective complex of individual meaning, personal history and narrative. This meeting surveys recent significant shifts in biological psychiatry methods for the assessment of mental illness and questions their validity and limitations. It also explores nuances and interstices between the regard of psychiatric disorders as neurochemical flaws and experiential conditions; the cultural history of psychopathologies; and how brain-based accounts of mental illness circulate in the public domain and are incorporated in culture.

List of Speakers: Lisa Appignanesi, Noga Arikha, Lisa Blackman, Laura Bossi, Felicity Callard, Trudy Dehue, John Forrester, Allen Frances, Stephan Schleim, Ilina A. Singh

The meeting has three main sessions:

1. Tensions of Diagnosis
The current neuroscience set of co-circulating methods including diagnostic categories, behaviour rating scales, animal models and biological markers implies a superimposition of subjective symptoms, neurochemical markers and objective endophenotypology.  What are the advantages and limitations to the introduction of biological measures in DSM-V? What are their repercussions for epidemiology, criteria of inclusion in trials and treatment? The scope of this session is to illustrate difficulties conciliating validity/reliability of measurements with respect for heterogeneity in disease manifestation, both at the biological and phenomenological level and to bring emerging evidence from clinical, epidemiological and biological research, as well as sociological analysis.

2. Voices from within
The second session will be devoted to exploring nuances and interstices between psychiatric disorders as neurochemical flaws and as experiential conditions, the former characterization now being favored due to its measurability, and thus facilitation of standardization. Attention will be given to the role of narratives and personal accounts in illustrating differences in severity and sequence of symptoms as well as values and motivations among patients behind biological interpretation of illness, and pharmaceutical treatment.

3. Neurotransmitters and psychopathology in history and culture
In the final session, we will explore the history of certain psychopathologies and how brain-based accounts of mental illness circulate in the public domain and are incorporated in culture.
What ideas and representations of ‘illness’ do biological interpretations let circulate in culture? How are they welcomed, endorsed or resisted by the general public? What scientific or commonsensical ideas do we live by to describe and explain illness, and what is their valence?

There is no conference fee. For further information and to register please contact Giovanni Frazzetto at giovanni.frazzetto(at)

Updated information will be available on the conference website.

Job: Law and neuroscience at Vanderbilt University

26 January 2011

Law School
Associate Director for the Law and Neuroscience Project

The national MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project, headquartered at Vanderbilt University Law School, is currently accepting applications for the Associate Director position.


The Associate Director will report to Director Owen Jones, New York Alumni Chancellor’s Chair in Law & Professor of Biological Sciences, and will be responsible for assisting in both the substantive and procedural management and operation of the Law and Neuroscience Project. The term of the position begins on May 16, 2011, with a flexible start date, and runs through June 30, 2012, with up to two additional years possible. Candidates must relocate to Nashville.


This position requires both a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree. A law degree, as well as minimum of 24 months of relevant experience, is strongly preferred, as is familiarity with academic research. Applicants need not come from science backgrounds. However, some familiarity with one or more of the fields of biology, psychology, or neuroscience may prove helpful (and should be mentioned). Salary is competitive and commensurate with education and experience.

To apply, please send or email a C.V., transcript (unofficial is acceptable), brief writing sample, and a letter of intent to either: applylawneuro [at] (preferred) or to:

Sue Ann Scott
Assistant Dean for Personnel Services
Vanderbilt University Law School
131 21st Ave. South
Nashville TN, 37203

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

Internship: Brain Waves Project

13 December 2010

The Royal Society internship programme within its Science Policy Centre has been up and running since July 2009 with the aim of giving interns hand-on experience of working in science policy. Placements are typically for a period of 2-3 months.

We are currently seeking an intern to work for approximately three months, ideally from January or early February 2011, on our five-part Brain Waves project which is investigating developments in neuroscience and their implications for society and policy.  The focus during this period will on Module 4: Neuroscience, responsibility and the law, and Module 3: Neuroscience, conflict, and security.  Please see the project website for further details.

  • The internship will involve a range of activities, such as organising meetings and summarising discussions, research and literature reviews, and related drafting and writing, as well as liaison with our stakeholders. There may also be some opportunities to be involved in other projects within the Science Policy Centre.
  • Internships are unpaid and voluntary. The Society is able to offer a travel and lunch allowance of up to £100 per week for the duration of the internship, depending on individual circumstances.

Suitable candidates will have a first degree and a keen interest in policy with a particular focus on neuroscience. All candidates must be hard working, team players with a thirst for knowledge.

If you would like to apply for this internship please send your completed application form together with your cv and a covering letter outlining your suitability for the position to Frances Hughes or email .   The deadline for receipt of applications is Monday 3 January 2011. Interviews will take place during week commencing Monday 10 January.

If you have any questions please call Frances Hughes on 0207 451 2550.

Further information is available here.


Conference: The Ethical Interface Between Psychology, Neuroscience and the Law

1 October 2010

The British Psychological Society Division of Neuropsychology Post-Qualification day on the Ethical Interface between psychology, neuroscience and the law brings together experts who deal with neuroethical questions on a daily basis.  The experience they bring from the fields of neuropsychology, neurology, neuroscience and the law will provide insight into the neuroethical questions faced by all those who work with individuals with acquired brain injury.

CPD accreditation applied for with Royal College of Physicians and Solicitors Regulation Authority

Date: 26 November 2010

Place: UCL Institute of Child Health, London


An overview of consciousness by Prof Adam Zeman
Consideration of the ethical implications of developments in neuro-imaging for clinical diagnosis, rehabilitation and health policy by Dr Tristan Bekinschtein
Discussion on the ethical distinction between withdrawing or withholding treatment by MA in Medical Ethics and Law alumna Ms Beverley Taylor
Consideration of whether we should encourage people with deteriorating neurological conditions to make advance directives and whether clinicians have a conflict of interest by Judge Carolyn Hilder
An exploration of the dilemma of conducting risky rehab in the context of risk adverse health service organisations by Ms Sonja Soeterik
Discussion of the practicalities of managing “best interests” in clinical practice by Prof Mike Barnes

For registration details, see the study day website.