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Forensic Psychology: Book Review - Neuropsychology in the Courtroom

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:51pm

I thought I would post a quick comment regarding a forensic psychology book I recently started reading. The book is titled Neuropsychology in the Courtroom, and it is edited by Robert Heilbronner. The book was published in just this year, and it addresses various forensic concerns from a neuropsychological perspective.

In my efforts to get over my very rigid personal book reading habits of 1) reading books cover to cover, and 2) reading them in order (another topic for another time), I decided to start with a chapter that looked interesting based on its description and the table of contents. Ultimately, I went with a chapter written by Joel Morgan titled “Noncredible Competence: How to Handle “Newbies,” “Wannabes,” and Forensic “Experts” Who Know Better or Should Know Better.” I picked this chapter to start with simply because I found it amusing that there was a chapter with the words newbie and wannabe in it, in an otherwise scholarly tome.

The chapter primarily addresses the issue of poorly conducted forensic evaluations, either because they were conducted by individuals who lack sufficient knowledge of the issues, or because the expert, while trained incompetent, alters or bends there views in accordance with the desires of the side that retained them. Thus, the terms newbie, wannabe, and “expert.”

The chapter raises a number of important in interesting points, and provides a case study for each example. Not only does the author demonstrate through the case study the importance of conducting thorough evaluations based on sufficient knowledge, he also provides some very basic yet helpful information on things to consider with respect to two evaluations. Another point, relevant to the idea of an expert bending their opinion, addresses the idea of identifying exceptions that actually prove the rule. In other words, if the bulk of the data in an evaluation points towards a particular finding, it is disingenuous to highlight the few data points that are inconsistent with the overall evidence. This does not mean we don’t report this data, but to highlight the exceptions at the expense of the overall trend would not be appropriate. Even worse is to describe certain data in language designed to accentuate or exaggerate its actual meaning. The author gives as an example and evaluation were scored that fell at the 17 th percentile was described as “borderline impaired,” while a score at the 11 th percentile was labeled “impaired.” To do this is simply an effort to mislead an individual reading the report, particularly an individual who may not be familiar with this type of data. Scores at those percentiles are not “borderline impaired” or “impaired,” and would appear those labels are being used to imply that the scores are worse than they actually are.

As I said, the author provides some other very helpful information when considering the neuropsychology of a forensic evaluation. I enjoyed the chapter very much, learned a few things, and look forward to reading more of the book (in whatever order I want to!).

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