The need for a (more) Critical Neuroscience

It is quite interesting to see that even our small course blog already contained three posts about the intersection of the data-driven science/neuroscience and law.

Willmott (2016) provide an overview of the recent uses of neuroscientific findings as evidence in a court. While they conclude that so far very little cases of such “neuroevidence” have had a major impact on the outcome of the case, the number is on the rise. The emergence of new these neuro-inspired disciplines in the social sciences (e.g., neuroethics or neurolaw as described in the previous paragraph) emphasise the need for increased scrutiny in the face of unrestrained reductionist approaches. The use of neuroscientific methods, especially neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI or EEG, across various sciences and fields emphasises the need for neuroscientists to take a step a back, and critically question their tools and methods.

Critical Neuroscience (Choudhury and Slaby, 2011) as an initiative was born in Berlin around a group of young researchers with various backgrounds (e.g., neuroscience, philosophy, sociology). Their common worry was the “neurohype” in science, especially the humanities, driven by the advancement of neuroimaging technology during the last two decades. Furthermore, they are viewing the neurosciences through a critical lens as understood by the Frankfurt School. In times of ever-increasing precariousness, a publishing and funding system that is highly competitive and rewards behaviours such as p-hacking, it is important to be aware of the social, cultural, and historical nature of the neurosciences.

For anyone who is interested in ideas and thoughts along these lines, I can only recommend to have a look at Choudhury and Slaby (2011). For those who do not have the time to indulge in a whole book about Critical Neuroscience, Schleim (2014) provides a succinct summary of the problems that recent developments in the neurosciences brought up.



Choudhury, S., & Slaby, J. (2011). Critical neuroscience: A handbook of the social and cultural contexts of neuroscience. John Wiley & Sons.

Schleim, S. (2014). Critical neuroscience – or critical science? A perspective on the perceived normative significance of neuroscience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from
Willmott, C. (2016). Use of Genetic and Neuroscientific Evidence in Criminal Cases: A Brief History of “Neurolaw”. In Biological Determinism, Free Will and Moral Responsibility (pp. 41-63). Springer, Cham.

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