Monday, May 13, 2013

biology is not fate - but game recognize game...,

guardian | For all Raine's rigour, his discipline of "neurocriminology" still remains tarnished, for some, by association with 19th-century phrenology, the belief that criminal behaviour stemmed from defective brain organisation as evidenced in the shape of the skull. The idea was first proposed by the infamous Franz Joseph Gall, who claimed to have identified over- or underdeveloped brain "organs" that gave rise to specific character: the organ of destructiveness, of covetousness and so on, which were recognisable to the phrenologist by bumps on the head. Phrenology was widely influential in criminal law in both the United States and Europe in the middle of the 1800s, and often used to support crude racial and class-based stereotypes of criminal behaviour.

The divisive thinking was developed further in 1876 by Cesare Lombroso, an Italian surgeon, after he conducted a postmortem on a serial murderer and rapist. Lombroso discovered a hollow part of the killer's brain, where the cerebellum would be, from which he proposed that violent criminals were throwbacks to less evolved human types, again identifiable by ape-like physical characteristics. The political manipulation of such hypotheses in the eugenics movement eventually saw them wholly outlawed and discredited.
As one result, after the second world war, crime became attributable to economic and political factors, or psychological disturbances, but not to biology. Prompted by advances in genetics and neuroscience, however, that consensus is increasingly fragile, and the implications of those scientific advances for law – and for concepts such as culpability and responsibility – are only now being tested.

Raine is by no means alone in this argument, though his highly readable book serves as an invaluable primer to both the science and the ethical concerns. As the polymath David Eagleman, director of neuroscience and law at Baylor College in Texas, recently pointed out, knowledge in this area has advanced to the point where it is perverse to be in denial. What are we to do, for example, Eagleman asked, with the fact that "if you are a carrier of one particular set of genes, the probability that you will commit a violent crime is four times as high as it would be if you lacked those genes. You're three times as likely to commit a robbery, five times as likely to commit aggravated assault, eight times as likely to be arrested for murder and 13 times as likely to be arrested for a sexual offence. The overwhelming majority of prisoners carry these genes; 98.1% of death row inmates do… Can we honestly say that the carriers of those genes have exactly the same range of choices in their behaviour as those who do not possess them? And if they do not, should they be judged and punished by the same standard?"

Raine's work is full of this kind of statistic and this kind of question. (One of his more startling findings is the extraordinarily high level of psychopathic markers among employees of a temping agency he studied, which came as no surprise to him. "Psychopaths can't settle, they need to move around, look for new stimulation," he says.) He draws on a number of studies that show the links between brain development, in particular – and brain injury and impairment by extension – and criminal violence. Already legal defence teams, particularly in the US, are using brain scans and neuroscience as mitigating evidence in the trials of violent criminals and sex offenders. In this sense, Raine believes a proper public debate on the implications of his science is long overdue.

Raine was in part drawn to his discipline by his own background. In the course of scanning his murderers, Raine also examined his own PET profile and found, somewhat to his alarm, that the structure of his brain seemed to share more characteristics with the psychopathic murderers than with the control group.
He laughs quickly when I ask how that discovery felt. "When you have a brain scan that looks like a serial killer's it does give you pause," he says. And there were other factors: he has always had a markedly low heart rate (which his research has shown to be a truer indicator of a capacity for violence than, say, smoking is as a cause of lung cancer). He was plagued by cracked lips as a child, evidence of riboflavin deficiency (another marker); he was born at home; he was a blue baby, all factors in the kind of developmental difficulties that might set his own researcher's alarm bells ringing.

"So," he says, "I was on the spectrum. And in fact I did have some issues. I was taken to hospital aged five to have my stomach pumped because I had drunk a lot of alcohol. From age nine to 11 I was pretty antisocial, in a gang, smoking, letting car tyres down, setting fire to mailboxes, and fighting a lot, even though I was quite small. But at that age I burnt out of that somehow. At 11, I changed schools, got more interested in studying and really became a different sort of kid. Still, when I was graduating and thinking 'what shall I research?', I looked back on the essays I'd written and one of the best was on the biology of psychopaths; I was fascinated by that, partly, I think, because I had always wondered about that early behaviour in myself."
As Raine began to explore the subject more, he began to look at the reasons he became a researcher of violent criminality, rather than a violent criminal. (Recent studies suggest his biology might equally have propelled him towards other careers – bomb disposal expert, corporate executive or journalist – that tend to attract individuals with those "psychopathic" traits.) Despite his unusual brain structure, he didn't have the low IQ that is often apparent in killers, or any cognitive dysfunction. Still, as he worked for four years interviewing people in prison, a lot of the time he was thinking: what stopped me being on their side of the bars?

Raine's biography, then, was a good corrective to the seductive idea that our biology is our fate and that a brain scan can tell us who we are. Fist tap Big Don.


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