Monday’s Mtg: What If Criminality Can Be Predicted?

Dean’s idea for a topic hits us in all the sweet spots:  Politics and public policy, science, law and the Constitution, ethics, and even culture.  This would not have always been true.  For decades, criminology was mainly sociological and political in focus.  The causes and predictors of crime were all about structural factors like poverty, segregated neighborhoods, education, racism, and so forth, and how they linked to the personal cause of crime like poor parenting, abuse and trauma, role models, and so forth.

That’s changing, or at least expanding.  A little cursory reading tells me that two new frontiers are being added to criminology.

  1. “Neurocriminology:”  Using personalized biological information (brain scans, genetic markers, and other physical traits) to predict who is likely to commit crimes in the future and who isn’t likely.  They’re working on it.
  2. “Predictive policing:”  Using number crunching of huge amounts of data (including, eventually if not already, surveillance data about people’s daily lives) to guess where and when and who is about to commit a crime or violent act.  They’re already doing some of this.

I’m not sure how close we are to this brave new world.  Try the readings below.  But, I know we can talk for two hours about the ramifications of it all.  I’ll open us up by summarizing the state of play in both these areas, based on very limited reading.  I’ll focus mainly on the biology stuff, since it’s way cooler.  Then, I want to push us to think about the enormous implications if they are able one day to predict criminal behavior – or, more likely IMO, if they merely think they can and deploy these tools anyway.

Discussion Questions –

  1. Biological crime fighting:  How close is science to being able to predict crime in individuals?  Could they ever separate nature versus nurture causes for anyone but a small number of the most inherently violent, insane people?
  2. Let’s say they will be able to do this.  What ethical, legal, and political issues would it raise?  How will these tools be employed and what limits will be placed on them?  Who will get a say in this and who won’t?
  3. Big Data crime fighting:  How close are the number crunchers a to being able to predict crimes?   Same legal, moral, ethical questions?
  4. Attempting to identify the “bad” people in society in advance has always been misused and gotten pretty ugly.  Will it be different this time because it’s more “scientific?  Could it be worse?

Links –


NEXT WEEK:    The “problem from Hell:”  Stopping  genocide 100 years after Armenia:


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