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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Junk Science Influences Courtroom Decisions

courtroom psychological exams
Scientists distinguish between legitimate measures for evaluating a person's psychological state and intelligence quotient (IQ) and unreliable tests, otherwise known as junk science. For example, if you are interested, you can search the internet for IQ tests if you'd like to determine where you rank. There are hundreds available; scientists stand by some of them but think many others are bogus.

The internet is also home to a myriad of psychological exams that can help people get a better picture of themselves. While mental health tests should be followed by an assessment from an expert, taking an online exam can help people find out if they meet some of the criteria for depression or bipolar disorder.

Many people are unaware of how often IQ and psychological exams are used in American courtrooms. Naturally, mental health screening is prudent if someone argues that insanity played a role in a crime they committed. A mental health diagnosis can be the difference between receiving treatment or capital punishment.

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the scientific community does not accept many of the IQ and mental health tests being used to influence courtroom decisions. A new study examines the use of psychological and IQ tests in the courts, and the findings are troubling.

Unreliable Courtroom Psychological Tests


Tess Neal, an Arizona State University psychology professor and co-author of the new study, found that a third of psychological exams used in recent court cases weren't reviewed in the field's most prominent manuals, ABC News reports. Of the hundreds of tests analyzed, nearly a quarter were deemed unreliable by researchers. The findings appear in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Neal and her colleagues graded only 40 percent of psychological tests favorably. The research shows that junk science is influencing the decisions of judges or juries. What's more, the researchers found that the validity of psychological tests was challenged in less than 3 percent of cases.

"There's huge variability in the psychological tools now being admitted in U.S. courts," said Tess Neal. The professor adds that "There's a lot of stuff that looks like it's junk and should be filtered out by the courts, but it's not being filtered out." 

The research team came to their conclusions after examining 876 court cases in the U.S. between 2016 and 2018, according to the article. They found that the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test was utilized by the courts most.

While the MMPI has positive reviews among professionals, the second most common test utilized was the Rorschach test. Unlike the MMPI, many psychologists view the inkblot test as "dangerously ambiguous and subjective."

"This paper is highly significant, in part because many people's fates are determined by these tests," said Dan Simon, an expert on law and psychology at the University of Southern California Law School.

Simon was not involved with the new research, but he says that "Courts are supposed to sift out the junk science from the good science, as laid out in the federal rules of evidence...but that's not happening."

Orange County Attorney at Law


Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower is you are facing criminal charges in the State of California. With over 30 years practicing criminal defense, attorney Brower can effectively advocate on your behalf and help you achieve a favorable outcome.

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