Course taster

Unit summary

This unit has introduced you to expert witnesses and what they do within the courts, highlighting how they operate, what they provide testimony on and in what capacity they are able to do so. We also looked at the ways in which forensic psychology can have an impact here. However, there are several limitations with expert witnesses which must also be considered, and improvements should be made.


Junk science in the courts

This activity will give you the opportunity to conduct further research and reflect on the extent to which 'junk science' can find its way into court proceedings through expert testimony. This activity is split across two parts.

Part 1

In 1997, Professor Margaret A. Hagen wrote a very emotive book against psychology in the courtroom called 'Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice'. In 1998, Professor Saul Kassin (a key investigator and expert witness on false confessions) reviewed this book. His review is available through your online reading list (The link to the online reading list is not available in this course taster):

- Kassin, S.M. (1998). Clinical Psychology in Court: House of Junk Science? Contemporary Psychology, 43(5), 321–324.

Read through his review and consider the following questions:

1 - What could we consider as 'junk science'?
2 - Which evidence bases are too limited to use appropriately?
3 - Comment on these - can you find cases where they have been used?

Record your answers to these questions (no more than 200 words in total) in your Personal Journal (The link to the Personal Journal is not available in this course taster).

Part 2

After you have done this, also read the following paper by Neal et al. (2019) related to junk science in the court room, considering the prevalence of junk science and how this could be addressed:

- Neal, T.M.S., Slobogin, C., Saks, M.J., Faigman, D.L., & Geisinger, K.F. (2019). Psychological Assessments in Legal Contexts: Are Courts Keeping "Junk Science" Out of the Courtroom? Psychological science in the public interest, 20(3), 135-164. doi: 10.1177/1529100619888860. This article is available through your online reading list.

On the Discussion Board for this unit, post one example of a type of junk science which could have/has been used in the courts. Your post should include a comment on how prevalent it is, with reference to specific examples where possible. Your post should be no more than 150 words (The link to the Discussion Board is not available in this course taster).

After you have completed this, review your peers' posts and make a note of any examples of junk science that you had not considered. Comment on at least one of your peers' posts, proposing one potential solution/mitigation that could be deployed to address that particular form of junk science being used in court.