Interested in Making Your Law and Science Paper Public?

I see that some of you are beginning to blog about the Law and Science papers that you have been diligently working on throughout the semester. One of you correctly referred to the much anticipated “December 13th release” date. If you are interested in getting your ideas out into the world, consider posting your paper on SSRN. The popular site will set up an author’s page for you and allow others to download your papers. Also, as I’ve mentioned in class, you might consider trying to publish your paper in a law journal. I’m here to help you out with the potential publication process if you’re interested. (Please note, though, that making your ideas public via SSRN or publication will not affect your grade in the course; it could boost your resume, though!)

Correlation May Not Mean Causation

Having a degree in Political Science, I must write at least one article from my field. After all, politics IS a science. Those who say, “Well, it is not a hard science!” never had Dr. Brian A. Bearry, Ph.D (UT Dallas) for Political Theory.

An article published two days ago on CNBC discusses U.S. cities that are quickly “minting millionaires.” This article shows a map of the cities, which include:

  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Washington, DC
  • San Francisco
  • Houston
  • Boston
  • Philadelphia
  • San Jose
  • Detroit

What makes this interesting is when you see the map of the United States showing these successful cities and then compare it to a map of the country’s electorate. All but one of these states’ electoral votes went to the president in the last election, and all of the cities voted for the current administration.

Does this mean cities that vote for Democrats are more likely to produce millionaires? It depends on who publishes the report. Of course, a real scientist will argue it is a coincidence and that a coincidence does not equal causation—Half of all political scientists will argue the opposite.

Cities that grow millionaires:

Electoral vote for the 2012 presidential election:

Dr. Brian Bearry:

You decide.

A Look at Thrill Seeking

As many are awaiting the December 13th release of my paper on speeding, I want to address a concern some have with raised speed limits–Thrill seeking adrenaline junkies.

Surely, we all know one. The person who rides a motorcycle, drives fast, owns an arsenal of weapons, drinks excessively, uses foul language, skydives, picks fights, always getting a new tattoo, listens to offensive music, etc. Have you met my mother?

Dr. Salvadore Maddi, Ph.D, a psychologist from the University of California, thinks these things may come from feeling a lack of purpose in life. Dr. Maddi believes when people feel unfulfilled with everyday tasks and routines involved with life, some turn to violating social norms. We see these people abuse sex, relationships, money, and the law. Another psychologist, Dr. Michael Aptor (visiting professor at Yale), adds that these activities are found in areas where survival is less challenging. In cultures where life is safe, people look for ways to survive.

Arguably, western civilization has become “too safe.” We tend to sterilize everything under the guise of public good or the fear of lawsuit. Either way, some people need to step out of the rat race and feel as if they are “living.” I argue that by making speed on the highway less forbidden, the thrill seekers will find their rush from something else. They want to do what they should not do.

I truly hope you all enjoy my final paper. Your opinions are valued. In the meantime, if you want to read more about adrenaline junkies, please follow this link to a very informative article in Psychology Today:

The CIA, Climate Change, and Congress

Like James’s post, I am interested in the interplay between the Legislature and science. One of the more obscure and bizarre parts of the federal bureaucracy closed its doors last week. The Central Intelligence Agency shuttered its Center on Climate Chance and National Security, which began in 2009 to monitor “the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources.” Republican lawmakers had been harshly critical from the start, criticizing the Center as an unnecessary aside from the CIA’s primary mission. The Center’s importance was especially doubtful because it only compiled and analyzed studies from other agencies, rather than conducting independent research.

Even so, the threats climate change pose to national security are actually (and perhaps surprisingly) real. The National Academies of Science recently released a report identifying potential trouble spots. For instance, the study predicted conflict could ensue over dwindling water in the Nile River Valley, fronted by 300 million people in Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The Defense Department has likewise begun retrofitting its equipment to cope with future fuel shortages.

The CIA’s Center was an easy target for legislators trimming the federal budget, but it emphasizes the surprising potential for scientific shifts to steer foreign policy. The Center on Climate Change was easily construed as unnecessary and redundant because it only analyzed studies rather than conducting independent research. Yet at least in this area, there are apparently ample scientific studies but scant policy analysis on the consequences for foreign policy. Lawmakers might be better served by encouraging further analysis of existing research, rather than prizing independent research above all else. So too from our perspective, there is ample scientific research on my paper topic, but there had been surprisingly little legal analysis.

Let’s Not Coddle the Kid Who Commits a Crime

The National Research Council recommends juvenile law incorporate the science of teen brain development into their reform efforts.  It recommends judges consider the individual offender’s social environment before deciding punishment, and to NOT adopt “adult criminal court” style punishments.  In only very rare occasions where a teen poses “an extremely high risk to others” should he/she be confined because the “harsh laws” passed in the 1990’s don’t reflect the developmental differences between an adult (brain) and a developing adolescent brain.

Reasons cited for this advice include medical research provided by Dr. Robert Johnson, dean of New Jersey Medical School that reveal “an imbalance in developing brain systems is linked to adolescents’ lack of mature capability for self-regulation, heightened sensitivity to external influences, and poorer ability to make decisions that require consideration of the future.”  Dr. Johnson says the high-risk and impulsive yet illegal activity stems from the same kind of risk-taking that most normal teens experience as part of the growing up process.  Most teens grow out of it.

Personally, I think this a big load of crud.  Yes, the Texas Youth Commission is crowded, but I still think it is necessary.  The kids in this program are only there because they are the worst, most dangerous offenders.  We are talking about rape, assault with a deadly weapon, and murder here.  And yes, there are other alternatives to confinement to teach a kid to be responsible for his own actions, but let’s face it, folks:  by the time that teen has reached the level of impulsiveness and violence to actually cross that line into actual criminal behavior, this tells me the family “group hug” approach ain’t working.  Something more drastic has to be done.  Juvenile detention, especially confinement – IS JUST THE TICKET.  It gets a teen’s attention.  Specifically, I refer to juvenile detention in smaller county lockup programs – NOT the TYC.  Confinement in these “smaller hotels” works well.  Very well.

Confinement, I might add, also gets Mom and Dad’s attention.  It is an alarm clock for under-involved parents, and over indulgent ones too.  Especially the “helicopter parent” who repeatedly swoops in to solve their child’s problems in school and never lets a kid feel any consequences for their own bad choices.  Worse, this same parent type provides great modeling on how to blame others (aka “Oh, that teacher never liked Johnny” or “the police had it out for you- poor baby”).

Good parenting skills or bad, by the time a teen (age 13-16) has been caught with drugs, theft, or fighting something tougher is drastically needed if this teen has any hope of learning society rules before becoming an adult.  Especially if the confinement includes a level-up behavior system to earn weekend furloughs and freedoms.  I know. I actually BEGGED a judge to place my child in Collin County’s juvenile detention program because I didn’t know what else to do.  After school truancy and minor drug possession followed by even more truancy, we had already been through the ranks of the public school’s discipline program, and the JP court.  Even on probation, his behavior wasn’t changing.

He knew better.  He knew right from wrong.  He was just a teen choosing to take high risks.  New brain research or not, now he was taller and stronger than me.  I could no longer pick him up and put him in his room for time out.

After repeatedly breaking his mandatory probation rules (again for truancy) I begged the probation officer to issue a warrant.  In court, I begged the judge to lock him up.  Therefore, my teen wore an orange jumpsuit, a shave head, and talked to me through a plastic window for 7 months. It was hard to do–asking a court to confine my son, but it was all I could think of.

While in confinement, he raised his grades from a 1.8 to a 3.6 and changed from a high school dropout to an early graduate at the top of his class.  He learned respect for himself and others as he worked his way through the leveled system for a chance to be out of a 4×5 cell and back into his soft bed at home for a weekend at a time.  His attitude went from angry entitlement to humble gratitude as he realized that he had blessings in his life that he had never before considered.

So, no, DON’T model the juvenile justice system exactly like the adult court, but DO give kids a taste of what the real world – and real adult jail is going to be like if they do not change their ways.  DON’T disregard the adolescent brain research on impulsivity and high-risk choices, but also DO remember that it is a good thing–a positive thing–to teach a kid with a high-risk brain stop and think.  How to weigh impulsivity against the risk and laws before he becomes the adult who is a felon sitting in cells we pay for with our taxes.  And do – please DO use confinement – even if the teen is not “in danger of hurting others”.  Segregate that population in those detention centers by crime types to ensure misdemeanor offenders are not influenced juvenile felons, but never EVER give up the idea of good old-fashioned confinement.  It saved my son’s life, and I am thankful for it.

For the article that spurred this emotional blog, see

Regulation by Statistics

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was established by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974.  This Act abolished the Atomic Energy Commission, splitting its promotional and regulatory functions. The promotional and development activities were vested in the Department of Energy; the regulatory functions were transferred to the NRC. The NRC’s responsibilities are fourfold: protecting public health and safety, protecting the environment, protecting and safeguarding nuclear materials and nuclear power plants in the interest of national security, and assuring conformity with antitrust laws.

In furtherance of the first of these responsibilities, the NRC in 1986 published “safety goals” to “broadly define an acceptable level of radiological risk” as the result of the commercial operation of nuclear powered plants to generate electricity. These goals were “based on the principle that nuclear risks should not be a significant addition to other societal risks”:

  • Individuals should bear no significant additional risk to life and health as the result of nuclear power plant operation.
  • Societal risks to life and health should be comparable or less than the risks of generating electricity by other technologies, and should not be a significant addition to other societal risks.

These two goals were then defined quantitatively: less than a 0.1% increase in risk (one more chance in a thousand) of prompt fatality and less than 0.1% increase in risk of latent cancer fatality. Since these goals were established, the NRC has developed a risk-informed regulatory approach by which it seeks to accomplish these goals using probabilistic risk models—estimating the probability of certain reactor accidents, estimating the dose effects these accidents would have on the population surrounding the reactor facilities, and estimating the health effects these doses would cause. The NRC then implements a regulatory framework that ensures operators of reactor facilities maintain their accident probabilities some margin below the thresholds that would exceed these 0.1% increases.

However, when these goals were established (and still today), there was little information on what the long-term effects of radiation exposure might be. Nuclear technology as an energy source was relatively new, having been developed only thirty years prior. And while there was plenty of data to understand the severe physiological effects of extreme radiation doses, very little was available on moderate levels of exposure, either acute or over time.

Most of the information available today is based on long-term monitoring of people in the vicinity of four nuclear events: the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Windscale reactor accident in the UK in 1957, cleanup efforts following the SL-1 accident in Idaho in 1961, and the Chernobyl accident in 1986 in what is now Ukraine.

The body of data from the bomb victims is the most complete, as the majority of the long-term survivors have by now died, but the actual doses are unknown, are much higher than could be expected from a commercial reactor accident, and cannot be accurately modeled. The exposure of those involved in the SL-1 cleanup was relatively low and was received over time, so those data too are of limited use in modeling the health effects of acute exposures.

Epidemiological studies following the Windscale accident followed 470 male employees through 1997. These studies indicated no change in mortality rate and no change in the overall rate of cancer.  There were excess deaths noted due to diseases of the circulatory system and heart disease, but these were compensated for by an over-70% decrease from the expected rate of genitor-urinary tract cancers.

Similarly, in the population affected by the Chernobyl accident—for which we have much better dose information—there was no statistically significant change in the cancer rate among those exposed to moderate levels of ionizing radiation (10 rem or less over a short period of time).  For comparison purposes, the maximum permitted annual dose (total effective dose equivalent or TEDE) for a trained radiation worker in the United States is 5 rem; the maximum permitted dose for a member of the public is 100 mrem (0.1 rem) TEDE at a rate of no more than 2 mrem in any one hour.  (On an airline flight from NY to LA, you get about 4 mrem.)  For a nifty comparison of radiation doses received from various things, see this chart (1 Sv = 100 rem).

Current plans are underway to conduct similar long-term epidemiological studies of Fukushima residents exposed to ionizing radiation from the reactor accidents caused by the March 2011 tsunami.  They promise to be more accurate than previous studies.

The point of all this is that the modeling of the physiological effects of radiation is very conservative.  The popular fear of radiation has driven the regulatory entity to take extreme steps to minimize the possibility of mishaps which may expose the population.  It is likely that an objective study could lead to some relaxing of regulatory requirements.  But that is not necessarily prudent.  As a result of the current regulatory scheme, there has never been an incident in the United States in which a member of the public received an elevated dose due to a commercial reactor accident.  Regulators of other industries should take note.


NRC mission & background: 10 C.F.R. § 1.1, 1.11 (2012)

Safety goals:  51 Fed. Reg. 28044 (Aug. 21, 1986)

Dose limits:  10 C.F.R. § 20.1201, 20.1301 (2012)

Fukushima study plans:  Suminori Akiba, Epidemiological studies of Fukushima residents exposed to ionising radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant prefecture—a preliminary review of current plans, 32 J. Radiol. Prot. 1 (2012)