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Sarah Izzo '15
Sarah Izzo '15

Sarah Izzo ’15 Examines Judicial System through Neuroscience Lens

By Isaac Handley-Miner '14  |  Contact Holly Foster 315-859-4068
Posted July 21, 2014
Tags Levitt Center Levitt Research Fellow Neuroscience Rick Werner Student Research Students

For her Levitt Summer Research Fellowship Grant, Sarah Izzo ’15 is working on a project with Professor of Philosophy Rick Werner titled “Brains on the Stand: The Implications of Emerging Neuroscience Research on our Judicial System.” Izzo is examining new neuroscience research on topics like decision-making and free will as well as associated technological advances (such as improved precision in lie detection). She hopes to see how this research has already influenced the United States judicial system and what additional implications it might hold for the future of the legal sphere.

In order to learn more about this area of study, Izzo has secured an externship through Mass General Hospital in Boston at the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (CLBB). There she hopes to get a better sense of the current body of research in neuroscience and related fields that may be relevant to the judicial system. Izzo emphasized the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration for this topic, saying, “There is a ton of research out there but very little collaboration between lawyers, judges or anyone with a forensic background.” The CLBB strives to resolve this issue by working with researchers from several fields, including neuroscience, forensic psychology, mental health and law.

One of the specific topics Izzo has been looking into recently is the possibility of lie detection through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). After reading extensively on the subject, Izzo noted that there appears to be little conclusive evidence of the applicability of lie detection through fMRI. However, several legal cases have already attempted to use fMRI lie detection as evidence. In addition, a few private companies have been advertising the use of this technology for decisions as significant as selecting a partner. Izzo remarked, “It’s pretty scary how this technology has already had an impact before it has even been validated.”

Izzo, a neuroscience major, said she has been interested for some time in finding the practical applications of immerging neuroscience research and its implications for society. Izzo stated, “I love the brain, but I love applying it to things that I can connect to everyday life. This past fall, I took a course with Professor Ravven in which we read her book, The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will. Absolutely life changing book - I highly recommend it. But the book got me thinking about how all of this research can have significant impacts for society.” This book ultimately sparked Izzo’s interest in the cross-section between neuroscience and the judicial system.

Izzo is a pre-med student and she hopes to specialize in either neurology or psychiatry in her post-grad work.

Sarah Izzo ’15 is a graduate of Sharon High School (Mass.)



Sarah, I thought I'd already commented on this (what a tiny, tiny comments box--is Hamilton discouraging comments?) But here's something you should look at: Homeland Security Today, a magazine for the new Surveillance State industry. Feb 2013, Vol 10, #1 has a cover story: Unveiling Intentions: Screening for terrorists before they can strike." It may be online at The lead article, p. 20021 et seq., is "Surveillance & Detection: Unveiling Intentions.

Take this piece in conjunction with this week's New Yorker Magazine article --now I can't fit it--here's the full Human Rights Watch report, which it excerpted:

This is a trail of rank, palpable, visible entrapment cases, which, like the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, have been sourced, planned, supported, recruited for--all by the FBI. (Which used to be known as For Blackmailing Individuals, but now is just Forever Being Illegal (for sarcastic names, I had a bedouin before, but can't find that, either. Anyway, these two items are, it sounds, right up your ally. You might add a bit of levity by commenting on Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "The Ministry of Silly Walks"--which presages todays "new biometrics" that include "gait". Silly Walks indeed. You could also take a break but get more context by watching "The Last Enemy" on the Beeb--a five-part drama of what it looks like our new Dystopia will look like. The writers lifted convicted (then pardoned) criminal Admiral Poindexter's "Total Information Awareness Program" that was de-funded by Congress when a citizen discovered what was going on--and its functions spread throughout the pentagon, but more surreptitiously this time. (Congress somehow was bothered that Poindexter the Convict was back on his home turf, spying on everyone. (Intel committee member Jane Harmon got eavesdropped while discussing getting a couple of AIPAC spies out of their prosecutions. She resigned. On the intel committee, and still didn't know that everyone is being wiretapped everywhere, all the time. With this so-called new technology (check me to see if I'm wrong, but the technology is being developed by the Israelis (Suspect Detection Systems, In, Shoham, Israel the article says. Just as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle remote control technology was developed in Israel--and sold to the Pentagon around the time that the company founder, Dov Zackheim, (sp) was controller of the War Department (also known as the "defense" department, despite the fact that, seemingly, they provide none. This was also around the time that SecDef Rumsfeld announced that $2.6 TRILLION in pentagon appropriations could not be accounted for. He announced this, now famously, on September 10, 2001. Then came September 11.

best wishes. bw

"lead article, p. 20-21 et seq." (not p. 20021) apologies for the typo.