BHM: The Legacy of African American Inventors

By: Dejaih Johnson

With February being Black History Month, I find this is a great opportunity to look at a brief history of the U.S. patent system and some of the African American inventors, innovators, and scientists who have helped shape American innovation.

The history of patents in America is older than the U.S. Constitution. Prior to the Constitutional Convention, colonies would grant patents in solidarity. After 1787, the patent process was opened up to the people by what is now the Patent Copyright Clause of the Constitution. Though on its face race-neutral, the patent system did not apply for Black Americans born slaves since laws prohibited slaves from applying for or holding property. As a form of intellectual property, this included patents. In 1857, the U.S. commissioner for patents officially ruled that inventions by slaves could not be patented and were without protection.

Without a patent system, you cannot have innovation. Patents allow inventors to exercise a monopoly over their invention. Patents also allow inventors to make money from their patent by selling it or licensing it out for use by another party. Thus, the inability for slave inventors to be granted a patent for their inventions was detrimental during times where the American economy was experiencing rapid growth.

Although the laws prevented slaves from owning patents, that did not stop them from inventing. Often times, slave owners took credit for their slaves’ inventions through laws that said the “[slave master] is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual.” But Black inventors continued to provide major contributions. On March 3, 1821, Thomas Jennings became the first African-American inventor to be granted a patent for a process we now call “dry cleaning”. Definitively able to receive the fruits of his labor, Jennings spent the remainder of his years as a civil rights activist and much of his earnings promoting abolitionist causes. A short time after, Elijah McCoy, a free man from Canada, invented an automatic lubricator for oiling the steam engines of locomotives and ships. Over his lifetime, McCoy obtained 57 patents, and this legacy has extended through the 21st Century. Former Air Force and NASA engineer, Lonnie Johnson, currently holds over 100 patents with over 20 more pending. Johnson is most famously known for his invention of the Super Soaker water gun and has generated more than $1 billion in U.S. sales. But success does not stop short of women. In 2006, Janey Emerson Bashen became the first Black woman to receive a patent for a software invention, and Dr. Hadiyah Green recently won a $1 million grant related to an invention that may help treat cancer.

African Americans have played a vital role in shaping innovation in this country. The effects of which can be felt every single day in the U.S. and around the world. True to the legacy of American innovation, today’s Black inventors continue to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them, in honor of their struggle and misused and underappreciated labor.

Citations:

American’s always had black inventors – even when the patent system explicitly excluded them, The Conversation, (Feb. 19, 2017), https://theconversation.com/americas-always-had-black-inventors-even-when-the-patent-system-explicitly-excluded-them-72619.

Biography, Lonnie Johnson, https://www.lonniejohnson.com/biography/ (last visited Feb. 8, 2019).

Diversity in Innovation: African-Americans’ Impact is Forever Reaching, InvetorsDigest, (Mar. 21, 2018), https://www.inventorsdigest.com/articles/diversity-innovation-african-americans-impact-forever-reaching/.

Dr. Hadiyah Green Wants to Use Lasers to Kill Cancer Cells, NBC News, (Mar. 17, 2017), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/dr-hadiyah-green-plans-defeat-cancer-lasers-n741206.

Elijah McCoy, Wikipedia, (Feb. 8, 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elijah_McCoy.

11 African American Inventors Who Changed the World, Mental Floss, (Feb. 6, 2018), http://mentalfloss.com/article/86923/11-african-american-inventors-who-changed-world.

5G Internet Hardware Battle Between China and U.S. Allies

By: Joseph Mallek

The next generation of wireless, internet technology is now being rolled out around the world. The next generation, known as 5G, will bring greater speed, a more responsive, and greater connectivity. Not only will this be available on smartphones capable of connecting to the new network but the 5G network will also change the way we connect to the internet in our homes. Experts have described the 5G network as a revolutionary step for internet technology.

With the new generation of the internet set to roll out across the United States and the world, hardware manufacturers are all competing to provide countries with the new 5G infrastructure. One of these manufacturers is China’s largest telecommunication’s producer, Huawei. Huawei has long been suspected by U.S. intelligence officials to have an extremely close relationship with the Chinese Government. Use of Huawei phones for Government employees and Government contractors has been banned by the Trump administration, out of fear of spying and the use of backdoors in phones. The same fear exists if Huawei is allowed to sell its hardware to 5G providers.

The Trump administration is putting pressure on not only domestic internet providers to not use hardware from Huawei or anything Chinese manufacturer. Described as a new arms race, whoever controls this new technology will have a significant economic, intelligence, and military advantage this century. To protect the security of the United States and its allies, the administration is moving quickly to prevent the sale of Huawei hardware.

Citations:

David E. Sanger, Julian E. Barnes, Raymond Zhong & Marc Santora, In 5G Race With China, U.S. Pushes Allies to Fight Huawei, The New York Times (Jan. 26, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/us/politics/huawei-china-us-5g-technology.html.

Sascha Segan, What Is 5G?, PCMag (Jan. 28, 2019), https://www.pcmag.com/article/345387/what-is-5g.

Michael Ken, Report: Trump to Ban Huawei Tech in US Wireless Networks, PCMag (Feb. 8, 2019), https://www.pcmag.com/news/366440/report-trump-to-ban-huawei-tech-in-us-wireless-networks.

Does Waze Help Drivers Avoid Drunk-Driving Checkpoints?

By: Ashley Robinson

Waze is one of Google’s navigation apps that is known for providing its users real-time data about potential hazards and dangers on the road. However, it also allows people to alert other users of the app the location of police on the road. Recently, some users have been using the app to let other users know where drunk driving checkpoints are.

Last weekend, the New York Police Department sent in a letter to Google demanding that that feature be removed from the app. The police are concerned that alerting people of these checkpoints will impede their use. They believe that using this app to alert people of drunk driving checkpoints will allow them to remain on the road, and to remain dangerous.

The main question is whether this is legal. It is possible that these users sharing the location of sobriety checkpoints is illegal, and Waze is breaking the law by assisting the dissemination of the information. The New York State Police Department said that “Waze might be breaking the law by trying ‘to prevent and/or impair the administration’ of the state’s D.W.I. laws and that the department planned to ‘pursue all legal remedies’ to stop people from sharing ‘this irresponsible and dangerous information’”.

However, it is not clear what legal steps might actually be taken. Waze does not allow people to specifically identify sobriety checkpoints. It allows them to alert other users where police are, and it also allows them to add comments to their post. Users are using that feature to specify where the sobriety checkpoints are. It is unclear what legal remedies are available to remedy this problem.

Citation:

Michael Gold, Google and Waze Must Stop Sharing Drunken-Driving Checkpoints, New York Police Demand, New York Times (Feb. 6, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/06/nyregion/waze-nypd-location.html.

Artificial Intelligence may be the Key to Solving Child Sex Trafficking Cases

By: Jacqueline Collins

As the growing problem of child sex trafficking has gained more attention from law enforcement and researchers, scientists have begun using artificial intelligence in order to find children and young women who are victims of this illegal practice. United States researchers from Temple University, George Washington University and Adobe launched an application in 2016 that collected photographs of hotels that could be matched with photographs used in online advertisements created by sex traffickers. These photographs collected through the application are contained in a database, called Hotels-50K.

While the original application and database made up of the collected photographs is for law enforcement use and view only, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an additional application became open to the public and allows people from all over the world to download it and upload photographs of hotel rooms that they see in online sex trafficking advertisements. So far, over 50,000 hotels are contained within the database that has been collected from the use of this application, called TraffickCam. Out of the 50,000 hotels that are included in the database, 13,900 of them have corresponding photographs that came from people submitting them through the application. The artificial intelligence system uses algorithms in order to match up photographs found on websites like Expedia, with photographs that have been submitted by people trying to help fight sex trafficking.

While this is a significant step towards saving victims of sex trafficking, law enforcement agencies have admitted that it is uncertain if the database has directly saved anyone from the practice. With more people learning about the existence of the application, however, more people may become involved, increasing the number of hotels depicted on the database. One thing that was made clear by researchers and law enforcement is that they do not intend to use the information on this database in order to identify victims in the images. In fact, when they receive an image including a victim, the first thing that they do is delete the victim from the photograph, in order to protect the victim and reduce the likelihood that her picture will be sent back and forth online. Overall, although the direct results are unclear as to whether this database has saved any victims, researchers and law enforcement insist that there is a good-hearted motive behind it, and the goal is to save people who have fallen victim to sex trafficking.

Citations:

Dan Robitzski, Scientists are using AI to Find Hotel Rooms Being used for Child Sex Trafficking, Futurism (Feb. 11, 2019), https://futurism.com/ai-identify-child-trafficking-hotel-rooms.

Donna Lu, AI has helped rescue children trafficked for sexual exploitation, NewScientist (Feb. 12, 2019), https://www.newscientist.com/article/2193727-ai-has-helped-rescue-children-trafficked-for-sexual-exploitation/.

Jason Fields, Scientists use AI to help children sold for sex in hotels, Reuters (Feb. 11, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trafficking-ai/scientists-use-ai-to-help-children-sold-for-sex-in-hotels-idUSKCN1Q018K.

Katyanna Quach, How AI can help halt human sex trafficking – by identifying victim’s hotel rooms from pics, The Register (Feb. 5, 2019), https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/02/05/ai_human_trafficking/.

The Ongoing Debate Over 3D-Printed Guns

By: Elle Nainstein

With 3D-printing technology on the rise, obtaining a gun may now be as easy as downloading one within the privacy of your own home. To do so, an individual could simply find blueprints for a firearm online, enter the schematics into a 3D printer, and within a matter of days, he or she would have their hands on a fully-functional plastic gun. Policymakers all over the country have been working to prevent this “under the table” method of acquiring firearms, expressing concerns over the fact that no background check is required to download the blueprints and no serial number would exist to trace the gun in the event that it is used to commit a crime.

In 2013, Cody Wilson, owner of the company Defense Distributed, created what is believed to be the first fully 3D-printed gun. After Wilson successfully tested the gun, he uploaded the blueprints to his website so that they would be made publicly available to anyone who might wish to build one. Under the Obama administration, the State Department ordered that the blueprints be taken down, asserting that Wilson’s publication of the blueprints constituted the exporting of weapons without a license. In 2015, Wilson sued the federal government, arguing that barring him from publishing the blueprints inhibited his First Amendment rights. When the case settled under the Trump administration in June 2018, Wilson was granted permission to move forward with publishing his 3D-printed gun blueprints beginning August 1, 2018.

Immediately following the announcement, nineteen states sued to block distribution of the blueprints. On July 31, 2018, US District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle issued a restraining order that halted Wilson’s plans to release 3D-printed gun designs online. On August 27, 2018, Judge Lasnik granted a motion for a preliminary injunction and extended the previous restraining order. “The court finds that the irreparable burdens on the private defendants’ First Amendment rights are dwarfed by the irreparable harms the states are likely to suffer if the existing restrictions are withdrawn and that, overall, the public interest strongly supports maintaining the status quo through the pendency of this litigation,” Lasnik wrote.

On August 28, 2018, Wilson announced he would begin selling the blueprints directly to people who want them. According to the ruling, “[r]egulation under the (law) means that the files cannot be uploaded to the internet, but they can be emailed, mailed, securely transmitted, or otherwise published within the United States.” Wilson said that while the preliminary injunction forbade him to share the files online for free, he interpreted the ruling as expressly allowing him to sell them. “Anyone who wants these files is going to get them. I’m gonna sell it to them, I’m gonna ship them. That began this morning,” Wilson said. “That will never be interrupted. The free exchange of these ideas will never be interrupted.”

Less than a month later, on September 25, 2018, Cody Wilson resigned from Defense Distributed after being detained and arrested in Taiwan. According to authorities, Wilson had fled the United States upon learning that he was being investigated for allegedly paying $500 to have sex with an underage girl in Austin, Texas. Wilson was subsequently deported back to the United States and is currently facing sexual assault charges. If found guilty, he faces up to twenty years in prison. Wilson has since been released on bail but has yet to issue a public statement on the matter. As of today, it is unclear how his resignation or the criminal charge will impact Defense Distributed and its role in the debate over 3D-printed guns.

Citations:

Charles Duan, Copyright Law Could Stop 3-D Printed Guns. Should It?, Lawfare (Aug. 31, 2018, 9:23 AM), https://www.lawfareblog.com/copyright-law-could-stop-3-d-printed-guns-should-it.

Eric Levenson and Keith Allen, Judge blocks distribution of 3D-printed gun blueprints until case is resolved, CNN (Aug. 27, 2018, 7:41 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/27/us/3d-guns-judge-ruling/index.html.

Jim Vertuno and Martha Bellisle, 3D-printed gun maker says he’s selling blueprints, despite court order against him, USA Today (Aug. 28, 2018, 7:59 PM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/08/28/3-d-printed-guns-cody-wilson-selling-plans-despite-ruling/1127628002/.

Eric Levenson, Maker of 3D-printed guns begins selling blueprints, despite court order, CNN (Aug. 28, 2018, 3:45 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/28/us/3d-printed-guns-cody-wilson-blueprint/index.html.

Paul J. Weber, Cody Wilson, 3-D Printed Gun Advocate Has Been Jailed in the U.S., Time (Sept. 23, 2018), http://time.com/5404123/cody-wilson-3d-gun-advocate-arrest/

3D-printed gun pioneer bailed after sex assault charge, BBC News (Sept. 24, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-45625275.

 

Is New EU Policy a Slippery Slope for Freedom of Speech?

By: Cayley Young

Earlier this week, European Union officials released the latest attempt to battle fake news, a uniform “code of practice”. The code outlines specific protocols related to online advertisements consisting of politics or containing political messaging. Protocols address best practices to address campaigns dedicated to misinformation and call for investment in products capable of targeting fake news bots used to cause political turmoil. While adoption of code practices is completely voluntary, the EU is optimistic that key industry players like Google, Facebook, and Twitter will lead the way with full compliance.

Despite good intentions, some are concerned the proposed code will be ineffective and could lead towards unwarranted infringement on personal liberties as media laws in other countries have. For example, Egypt’s rather new media law which prohibits the spread of false news by anyone with a 5,000 follower count on single social media platform has become an issue for many citizens. Recently, the Egyptian government has shifted its focus to stricter enforcement of the law recently in response to the massive impact of fake news on the U.S. presidential election. Although initially proposed to prevent the spread of calculated falsehoods, Egyptian citizens are concerned it is now being used as a channel for government oppression. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the case of several female journalists and tourists deemed in violation of the law after posting videos describing personal experiences of sexual assault while visiting Egypt. The prescribed sentence for a fake news violation is 8 years in prison.

Despite anxieties of the new code creating a slippery slope for freedom of speech, it is unlikely the EU will follow in the footsteps of Egypt. There are several key differences between the Egyptian media law and the uniform code of practice as established by the EU. For one, adherence to the policy completely voluntary, while it’s highly suggested for companies to join, there is no penalty for abstaining. Level of involvement will likely be determined by the behavior of industry leaders, not the threat of harsher government involvement. Additionally, the code is specific to politically motivated posts from bot sources rather than genuine personal accounts. It also focuses primarily on advertisements and is solely targeted towards companies that provide access to news sources online like search engines and social media platforms, not the general public.1 That being said, the new code is less of an attack on free speech, and more of a first stitch effort to unify a fragmented industry against a unique threat.

Citations:

1. Bryan Koenig, EU Unveils Self-Regulatory Code to Combat Fake News, Law360 (Sept. 26, 2018), https://www.law360.com/cybersecurity-privacy/articles/1086620/eu-unveils-self-regulatory-code-to-combat-fake-news.

2. Ruth Michaelson, Fake News Becomes Tool of Oppression After Egypt Passes New Law, The Guardian (July 27, 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jul/27/fake-news-becomes-tool-of-repression-after-egypt-passes-new-law.

Alexa Controlled Microwaves: More Privacy Concerns?

By: Nolan Hale

Imagine not knowing how long to cook some type of food, let’s say a potato. You are so busy doing something and you do not want to look it up on your phone or computer. So, you put the potato in the microwave and say, “Alexa, please heat up this potato”. The rest is up to the microwave.

Amazon has recently made this possible in creating a voice-controlled microwave incorporating the “Alexa” technology. One must simply tell the microwave what is in the microwave, “Alexa” will have a conversation with you regarding the weight of the food, and the microwave will heat it up. Additionally, Amazon created a voice-activated clock that can set reminders and timers. However, issues regarding privacy remain in the new voice-controlled microwave.

In May 2018, a woman said her Amazon “Alexa” recorded her private conversation and sent it to a random contact. She felt invaded when a person from 176 miles away received audio files of recordings from inside her house. While Amazon stated that was an extremely rare occasion, Amazon does not even seem to be addressing it. On September 20, 2018, Amazon held a press event introducing the Alexa-powered microwave and Alexa gadget in cars. During the press event, the Amazon executive did not mention any privacy concerns in their products.

There are likely more products coming out that can be voice activated like ovens, televisions, and possibly every appliance in the house. There will likely be remote ways to activate things in your home through voice-command technology. Amazon needs to address these privacy concerns because as technology continues to grow, privacy concerns are bound to as well.

Citations:

Heather Kelly, Amazon wants Alexa everywhere, CNN (last visited Sep. 22, 2018), https://money.cnn.com/2018/09/22/technology/alexa-everywhere/index.html.

Jason Del Rey, Amazon’s blockbuster Alexa event made zero mention of privacy concerns–and that may say more about us than about them, Recode (last visited Sep 20, 2018), https://www.recode.net/2018/9/20/17883538/amazon-alexa-microwave-privacy-security.

Gary Horcher, Woman says her Amazon device recorded private conversation, sent out to random contact, Kiro 7 (last visited May 25, 2018), https://www.kiro7.com/www.kiro7.com/news/local/woman-says-her-amazon-device-recorded-private-conversation-sent-it-out-to-random-contact/755507974.

Suit Brought Against Apple By Visually Impaired

By: Emily Aziz

On August 19, 2018, a class action suit was brought against Apple Inc. (“Apple”) in New York federal court. Plaintiff Himelda Mendez, and other visually impaired and legally blind persons who require reading software to read website content, claim that Apple’s website is in violation of the Plaintiff’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

The ADA, which became law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, such as blindness, in the public sphere. This includes jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private spaces that are open to the general public. This act allows those with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to everyone else.

In the complaint filed against Apple, Mendez claims that the Apple website is designed, constructed, maintained, and operated in a way that denies visually-impaired and blind individuals from using the website, and therefore, is in violation of the ADA. She seeks a permanent injunction to cause a change in Apple’s corporate policies, practices, and procedures in order for its website to be fully accessible to blind and visually-impaired consumers.

Typically, in a growing internet-savvy world, visually-impaired and blind people are able to use screen-reading technology that states aloud the information on the website. Alternatively, the screen-reading technology displays the content on a Braille display. Companys, when dealing with their websites, must have an invisible code embedded beneath the graphic imagines in order for the screen reader to verbalize the picture that is on its website. Apple’s website, however, does not do that.

The complaint states that the World Wide Web Consortium, the international website standards organization, has published “well-established” guidelines for making websites accessible to blind and visually-impaired people. The complaint continues to explain that these guidelines are universally followed by most large business entities and government agencies to ensure their websites are accessible.

As a result of Apple being inaccessible to visually-impaired and blind people, some of its customers are unable to determine what is on the website, look for store locations, and browse or purchase electronics, such as the widely popular iPhone, iPad, and MacBook laptops.

According to Forbes, as of 2018, Apple is the largest technology company in the world and the eighth largest company in the world. This poses no question whether it has the funds or ability to make its website accessible to all individuals. Additionally, both the company and its consumers benefit from having the website more accessible; More of Apple consumers will be able to browse/purchase its products online when visually-impaired and blind individuals can explore its website. Additionally, visually-impaired and blind people, like Mendez’ complaint asserts, should have access to all websites, and are seriously hindered when companies, such as Apple, do not make its website accessible.

Citations:

Dave Simpson, Apple Cite Violates ADA For Those Who Are Blind, Suit Says, Law360 (March 16, 2018), https://www.law360.com/articles/1074822?sidebar=true.

Mendez v. Apple Inc. No. 07550. (S.D.N.Y. filed Aug. 18, 2018).

U.S. Dep. of Jus. Civ. Rights Div. Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm.

Kristin Stoller, The World’s Largest Tech Companies 2018: Apple, Samsung Take Top Spots Again, Forbes (June 6, 2018, 5:50 pm), https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinstoller/2018/06/06/worlds-largest-tech-companies-2018-global-2000/#3173ee524de6.

A Reaction to a Shortage—Patents about EpiPen

By: Laura O’Brien

In 2004, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, requiring food labels to include the eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Prior to the Act, many foods were mislabeled, or failed to label one or more of these allergens. By mislabeling, or failing to label foods, individuals with allergies were vulnerable to allergic reactions to seemingly safe foods. Allergies, to food, bees, and other common allergens, put approximately 30,000 individuals in the hospital every year due to anaphylactic reactions. Individuals with severe allergic reactions rely on EpiPen’s to provide relief from symptoms. An EpiPen contains epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline. One injection from an EpiPen allows for 20 to 30 minutes after injection to suppress the allergic reaction and allow for an individual to reach medical care. Typically, individuals with allergies carry two EpiPen’s to offer either a backup, or an extra 30 minutes.

Pfizer and Mylan, the drug maker and distributor, came under heat for increasing the price to the life-saving device. Pfizer and Mylan were then subject to several lawsuits arising out of the price hike. Pfizer and Mylan have lacked competition in the EpiPen market, essentially having a monopoly in the market. By having a monopoly, the drug companies are able to charge a higher price, and consumers have no option other than to pay what is required. Unlike many other pharmaceuticals, EpiPen’s consist of non-patented epinephrine and a patented injector, the patent is owned by Mylan. Previously, the FDA wouldn’t approve any EpiPen alternative that had a different injector than the one patented by Mylan. As a result, no other pharmaceutical companies were able to produce an alternative that would be approved by the FDA.

Recently, the FDA has announced its commitment to expedite the approval process for alternative treatments. As a result, the FDA recently approved an auto-injector from the Israel based pharmaceutical company, Teva, creating competition for Pfizer and Mylan. Although Mylan introduced a generic EpiPen in 2016, this introduction did not create competition between companies, allowing Mylan and Pfizer to continue to sell both products at a high price. The FDA hopes the introduction of competition into the market will allow for lower prices, and more accessibility to those who need the life-saving drug.

In 2017, Mylan recalled several lots of EpiPen’s due to potential defects. The recall resulted in the FDA reprimanding Pfizer for failing to investigate complaints they hade received about EpiPen failures, some of which resulted in death. More recently, a shortage of EpiPen’s has continued, causing concern for parents of children with allergies going back to school who can’t seem to track down any pharmacies that are stocked with EpiPen’s.

Although the approval of the generic gives hope for those who need EpiPen’s and haven’t been able to afford or find them, the approval will not allow immediate relief. The shortage will continue until manufacturing and distribution can catch up with the need.

 

Cites:

Sonja Haller, How parents can find a lifesaving EpiPen for their kids during current shortage, USA Today (Aug. 22, 2018), https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/allthemoms/2018/08/22/find-epipen-parents-can-try-3-things-find-one-during-shortage/1065096002/.

Nathan Bomey, FDA approves first generic EpiPen in blow to Mylan, USA Today (Aug. 08, 2018), https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/08/16/generic-epipen-teva-pharmaceuticals-mylan/1010118002/.

Avik Roy, FDA’s New Generic EpiPen Approval Exemplifies Progress on Drug Price Reform, Forbes (Aug. 23, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2018/08/23/fdas-new-generic-epipen-approval-exemplifies-progress-on-drug-price-reform/#.

Joseph Walker, EpiPen Shortage Hits Back-to-School Season, The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 25, 2018), https://www.wsj.com/articles/epipen-shortage-hits-back-to-school-season-1535202001.

FDA approves Teva’s generic of Mylan’s EpiPen, 25 No. 14 Westlaw J. Med. Devices 08 (2018).

 

Using Neuroscience to Understand the Criminal Mind

By: Dejaih Johnson

The legal system is primarily reactive in its processes. Whether through common law to prevent the reoccurrence of a certain act, or trials to determine the culpability of one accused of committing a certain act, much of the legwork is done after commission. However, what if we could get ahead of this and identify those prone to committing crimes before the commission? For ages we have marveled with the criminal mind, making countless attempts to understand what makes these individuals tick, and a team at Cornell University may have begun taking steps in the right direction.

Recently, Valerie Reyna and her team have made great strides with a study of self-reporting criminal and non-criminal tendency individuals. The team has examined the neurological correlations between risk-preferences and criminality in adults. In part one, participants were offered a choice between $20 guaranteed, or a coin flip to gamble for double or nothing. Results found that individuals with higher criminal tendencies chose the gamble, arguing that $40 is more than $20. In part two, participants were given an option between losing $20, or flipping a coin to lose $40 or lose nothing. Those with lower criminal tendencies chose to gamble, conversely, those with higher criminal-tendencies chose a sure loss over the gamble.

These results offer a much different approach to understanding the criminal mind – a cognitive approach. In particular, Reyna’s study illustrates that it may be possible to identify and deter future high criminal-tendency individuals before a commission. Perhaps the most important takeaway from this study comes from Reyna’s team monitoring brain activation during completion of the tasks. After reviewing the results, the team found greater activation in temporal and parietal cortices for individuals that had higher criminal tendencies. These two areas of the brain are mostly involved with cognitive analysis and reasoning. This suggests that higher risk-takers utilize these two areas to maximize their winnings and minimize their loss at all costs. Those that are ordinary risk-takers showed brain activity in the amygdala and striatal areas, commonly associated with emotional reactivity and reward motivation. This implies that ordinary risk-takers are allured by the sure winnings of $20 and emotionally deterred from the guaranteed loss, favoring the possibility of losing nothing.

Moving onward, this study further illustrates that research into the criminal mind is important in creating policy. Reyna’s study demonstrates that the criminal mind and criminal reasoning is not always the same. Therefore, public policy surrounding the legal system should reflect this. Reyna argues that this study provides a greater understanding of brain behavior and can result in a more just system to protect both the public and the rights of the individual.

Beyond the reactive implications, the team at Cornell has provided an understanding of how to prevent criminal behavior proactively. When asked about the consequences of her study, Reyna stated, “I think this can really give us insight into how to help young people.” For example, she continued, this may help distinguish those who will and will not become criminals, in addition to helping us understand their behaviors and how to rehabilitate them. No matter which way you look at the results, it is readily apparent that studies like that conducted by Reyna and her team significantly contribute towards understanding criminality and the criminal mind. It is expected that this will excite new, novel research into the topic.

Cite:

Does neuroscience hold the key to understanding the criminal mind?, ScienceDaily (Sept. 5, 2018), https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180905140235.htm.