IPT Book Reviews

Title: Handbook of Psychology and Law  Positive Review
Editors: Dorothy K. Kagehiro and William S. Laufer
Publisher: Springer-Verlag, 1992

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Description:

The editors have assembled 29 chapters provided by 53 contributors.  They are to be congratulated for successfully combining the efforts of so many to produce a highly readable and informative volume.  This book has a higher level of readability and clear writing than most edited productions.  Whether this high level of quality is attained by a careful selection process of the contributors or by a massive editing job is not clear but when a superior product like this one is produced, it would be good for others thinking about similar projects to know how it came about.

The book has 10 parts with varying numbers of chapters and two indexes in 628 pages.  References are at the end of each chapter.  The 10 parts are organized by familiar legal classifications, such as constitutional law, criminal law, juvenile and family law, mental health law, discrimination law, and tort law.  The other parts are organized around the legal process and include legal procedure, evidence law, new areas of research, and professional issues.

An unusual area is covered in one chapter of Part 10, Professional Issues: copyright law applied to scientific research data.  An often overlooked reality for scientists is the conflict between the overt value of sharing science and scientific knowledge and data in open and honest fashion, and the ownership of concepts, ideas, and data.  In a highly competitive academic world and with the shrinking research dollar being chased by more and more people and institutions, this chapter alone could be worth the price of the book.
 

Discussion:

The editors aim at two audiences: lawyers and jurists on one hand, and psychologists on the other, with the intent to educate both groups on what the other is doing.  Legal professionals are given information on the kind of research psychologists do on legal issues and professional psychologists are told about the legal questions to which their research applies.  As a psychologist, the descriptions of the legal issues to which psychological research may be applicable in each instance appear to be cogent, accurate, and succinct.  The contributors are not afraid to take a stand and communicate to each of the audiences the problems the one finds in the work and methods of the other.  The questions and problems the psychologist has for the lawyers are also well delineated but occasionally appear to reflect the view that jurisprudence needs to be handled tenderly and not confronted openly with some of the more egregious traditional and persistent erroneous assumptions of the law.

Some of the time-honored "fireside inductions" (Meehl, 1989) of the law continue to push legal scholarship into ever more convoluted twists and turns, trying to accommodate error in a system supposedly searching for truth.  An example is the assumption that dying statements are more reliable than other kinds of statements.  Psychological research can provide data useful to jurisprudence to correct some of these sources of error.

This book takes a strong position that accuracy of the process is a fundamental value of the law.  It could do more to improve the accuracy of the decision making process by a somewhat more aggressive statement of credible data that are known in the science of psychology.  The chapter by Koehler which examines the issue of probability evidence in the courtroom is an example of what could be done.  Koehler provides an excellent summary and response to the legal scholar's criticisms of Bayesian inference as evidence in the courtroom.  The conclusion is that the accuracy of the system would be benefited by using Bayesian theory in the courtroom.

On the other hand, Saks's chapter on the role of an expert witness in the court system allows only for the role of impartial educator.  This is not very helpful because we are not likely to abandon the adversary system.  Saks would have assisted the two professions more by including at least as a possibility Diamond's concept of the honest but adversarial expert as a solution to the conflicts of roles.

The information presented throughout the book is useful for both psychologists and lawyers.  It should serve as a reference work for both professional groups to mutually strengthen each other.  An attorney who uses mental health professionals as expert witnesses should carefully study this book and the psychologist who wants to be in that arena should know it well.

 
References

Meehl, P. E. (1989). Law and the fireside inductions (with postscript): some reflections of a clinical psychologist. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 7(4), 521-550.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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