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Science and Law – Part 3

April 30, 2007

-Read part 0 here
-Read part 1 here
-Read part 2 here

Genetic Science and Truth
As with fingerprinting the uniqueness of a profile, be it a DNA profile or a fingerprint, is an important component in the legal inquiry. However, this should not be confused with the ‘attribution question’. Jasanoff argues that the attribution question molds into the unniqueness question, indicating “how faith in science’s truth-telling capability can distort both the logic and the normative function of legal inquiry.”

Especially with the amount of information gained from genetic science, overreliance on the implications of genetic studies can be troublesome. As more and more genes are mapped by the Human Genome Project, the focus on predictors of physical traits (eye / hair color, diseases, mental conditions) shifts to behavioral characteristics (agression, thrill-seeking), paving the way for eugenetics (leading to the racial rationale in the Nazi regime). This mapping of genes doesn’t eliminate the ‘nature vs. nurture’ -debate, as behavioral characteristics are heavily influenced by surroundings. However, as is noted by the author, money is still spent on research for finding “biological solutions to deep social problems“, as a faster solution for the various (slow) social policies to solve poverty and inequality (e.g. just let the intelligent people survive, to create a more balanced society. Or is there a genetic marker only existent in violent people?).

Science is used as a tool to repair human behaviour and mental conditions. But, as results from the Human Genome Project indicate, because the relative low amount of genes in the human species (only about twice as much as a fruit fly), the explanation of human behaviour doesn’t come from the genes alone.

Extreme care should be taken in explaining human behaviour on the basis of genetic information, or in extending results beyond what the research question.

Jasanoff ends with the article with:
In a court of law, science cannot hold itself out as simply science, the source of transcendental truths; more modestly, and with appropriate caveats, it can be the source of just evidence.

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