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After a self-imposed break from blogging, it is good to be back. My experiment monitoring blog traffic has ended, and the results are counterintuitive. Even after 5 days of no new posts, the number of people visiting the blog have not changed much. I would have expected a sharp drop, but people are clicking through with specific interests in mind – moral disgust, non-existent Halifax refugees, the Vimy Ridge monument, and the Supreme Court of Canada, among others.

There is an important exception: RSS readers. These are loyal folk who read the latest posts as they are published, so it makes sense their numbers have dropped to single digits. Since post views have remained fairly stable, I think RSS readers read the entirety of posts in their aggregators, rather than clicking to the blog’s webpage. This is what I do, so I’m not surprised.

As a result of this experiment, I’ve decided to keep publishing full posts via RSS feed (instead of just a summary introduction with a link to more on the website) and to strengthen my resolve to have headlines with relevant key words.

During the experiment, I’ve been unable to hold back from writing drafts on topics that pop into my head. This means I have several nascent posts in a holding pattern and will be publishing them from the stack over the next little while.

To new readers, welcome. To those reading via RSS, my apologies for seeming to abandon you these past few days. I’ll make it up to you in the coming days. You can look forward to pieces on autism and moral psychology, how to publish medical journals, and judges who don’t read.

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The Boston Globe and Slate are reporting a statistical anomaly. An unusual number of law students from Regent University School of Law have ended up working with the White House.

Are there numbers for the law schools represented in Canada’s public service? Data might give some insight into whether or not Canadian governments attract the top candidates graduating from law schools.

Given the strict hiring protocols, I doubt there is a hiring bias in the federal or provincial governments. Even so, it would make sense to see provincial ‘public interest’ lawyers come from law schools within the province’s jurisdiction, and University of Ottawa law graduates over-represented in the federal public service. It would be interesting to see what patterns might pop out of the numbers.

(Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

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In The neurobiology of punishment, the authors believe it is now possible to “sketch the beginnings of a neurobiological model of punishment.” The research so far focuses on economic games, so neuroeconomists will be delighted.

If you have not been introduced to that field, the Wikipedia article is a good first exposure with usable references, and a look at the comments to the blog entry Neuroeconomics explained reveals the perils of defining a new discipline. Neuroethicists be warned.

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Here is another example of how the The Brain on the Stand article is floating skeptical commentary from observers. Simon Fodden at Slaw nicely sums up the essential tension: our knowledge of human nature is at odds with how people believe the law must function. This results in bad legal doctrine.

The current doctrine of ‘insanity’ in criminal cases is clearly out of step with how we construct the mind-body-morality-action nexus nowadays; but if you release the pawl the ratchet might run free and who knows where it would stop. The very concept of identity might be in doubt — “He’s not the same man he was five years ago. Prison/medicine/love/aging/life has changed him.”

Being a bit of a bullet-biter, I’m not one to bow to slippery slope arguments, but I think it is an interesting observation that the law is weighted to resist evidence about human nature.

Why? In this case, because it gives us answers we don’t want to hear. When we think about culpability, Daniel Dennet was right. “A world without punishment is not a world any of us would want to live in.”

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This comes from Majikthise, a politics blog with some philosophy on the side. Lindsay Beyerstein thinks neuroscience doesn’t contribute much to the law:

…these imaging studies don’t seem to be telling the legal profession very much over and above what the law and psychology specialists have been studying for years.

Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen anticipate this skepticism in their article, For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything [Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B (2004) 359, 1775–1785]. From the abstract:

New neuroscience will change the law, not by undermining its current assumptions, but by transforming people’s moral intuitions about free will and responsibility… We foresee, and recommend, a shift away from punishment aimed at retribution in favour of a more progressive, consequentialist approach to the criminal law.

This is the rational course of action. However, I wonder if lawyers, judges, juries, victims and law-makers will be willing to listen to neuroscientists. Neurolaw might be consigned to law review articles that never receive notice in the legal profession.

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