Forensic Psychology: The Newest Wing of Justice

Accident forensicsGuest blogger Denise Hewitt wants to claim “forensics” all for psychology (we know its all applied anthropology) in the following post:

Face to face with our nation’s most reviled citizens, it’s not government officials or law enforcement diving into deep, murky, psychological waters of alleged criminals — it’s a relatively new breed of cognitive analysts. A recent slew of high-profile crimes has brought mental health to the forefront of our national conversation, and a growing number of specialized psychologists are leading the way. Dubbed “forensic psychology,” it’s likely to become a rapidly growing field. Criminal justice and psychology students alike may find themselves filling out a job application form to work in this new arena. The mental health experts in this field play key roles in the outcome of heart-wrenching trials, much to the chagrin of a vocal opposition.

What is It?

Dr. Christina Pietz, a forensic psychologist tasked with analyzing the gunman charged in killing six people and injuring U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, during a 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., testified that the then-23-year-old was competent to stand trial, according to Her testimony followed six months of evaluation that weaved together psychological assessment with the legal process.

According to the American Board of Forensic Psychology, these professionals apply science and psychology to issues relating to law and the legal system. This broad description leaves room for many roles, including competency evaluator, personality assessor and criminal therapist, among many others.

As evidenced by the Tucson shooter’s trial, forensic psychology plays a significant role in the legal process without a precisely defined role. That doesn’t mean the field is immature, however. The American Board of Forensic Psychology released its fifth draft of specialty guidelines in 2010, which outlines methods and procedures, conflicts in practice, privacy mandates and commenting best practices, among other things.

How Does It Work?

Unlike more conventional psychological assessment in which a professional explores the psychology of a willing subject, forensic psychologists often assess subjects that have no intention to assist the process in any way. Criminal profiler and serial crime expert Deborah Schurman-Kauflin described her basic approach to profiling violent criminals on Schurman-Kauflin has three questions in mind as she evaluates a suspect: What evidence is present at the scene? What is the motive? Who is the suspect?

In high-profile cases, the media relentlessly report evidence and potential motives, but forensic psychologists have intimate, exclusive access to the accused, making their testimonies all the more intriguing.

After the shooting in 2011, Dr. Pietz diagnosed Jared Loughner with schizophrenia. She stood by her diagnosis during her August 2012 testimony, revealing that medication led him to feel remorse for what he had done, according to Pietz’s conclusion that Loughner was competent to stand trial was a significant step in advancing the case.

Significant Opposition

Predictably, this new justice system resource has considerable opposition. explored a particularly strong opinion posted on its website, which described forensic psychology as “a whore subspecialty until otherwise proven, as it is doing what is financially convenient for the M.D…”. The comment implies that forensic psychology is susceptible to corruption and experts will say what they are paid to say. With the amount of influence these professionals have in the justice system, it’s certainly a fair concern.

Most forensic psychologists are American Board of Forensic Psychology certified, and board guidelines define clear processes to promote transparency. For example, the guidelines indicate the forensic psychologists should strive to have all data they considered when forming an opinion readily available for inspection. While the potential for corruption may always loom, forensic psychologists have the ability to offer undeniable astute opinions when assessing violent criminals.

Ethnographic (Inductive) Opportunity Analysis

IMG_0286Tomorrow TheAnthroGuys are giving a presentation about our core competency: Analytic Induction that gets practiced in search of opportunities to “add value“.

This is a rather clunky way to express what we do but we are still sharpening our ‘laser focus’ so bear with us.  Once we reach Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, I’m sure it will sound better.   We will be in a lecture hall of entrepreneurship students at Fresno State.  Incidentally, the name of the lecture hall is, “Pete P Peters”.  As I often tell students of ethnography, reality is more interesting than fiction once you start actually noticing it.

Ethnographers and entrepreneurs share a relience on inductive skills to accomplish their goals.  Once this is understood, we can learn a great deal from each other.

Tomorrow our presentation about all of this that can be found here: Ethnographic (Inductive) Opportunity Analysis Presentation.

In a few weeks, we will return to their class to continue this discussion.  Our hope is that some – if not all – of these students will see the value of this skill set.

Spontaneous Inductive Action – Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems

Jason, a clever colleague of mine, found an interesting article that reminded me of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ use of bricolage [French for, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)].

The Fresno Scraper
The Fresno Scraper

Paul Boutin describes a variety of simple solutions to complex problems that typify the sort of ingenuity that launched “The Fresno Scraper” and will pull us out of the challenges currently facing us in the San Joaquin Valley. This sort of “routine applied induction” or is occurring around us all the time but rarely celebrated.  In light of the growing challenges we all keep reading about (e.g., this story of Mendota’s water problems), we need to start hearing more of these stories of applied cleverness to balance things out.

Paul Boutin states this idea better than I could in his article:

Today’s shaky economy is likely to produce many more such tricks. “In postwar Japan, the economy wasn’t doing so great, so you couldn’t get everyday-use items like household cleaners,” says Lisa Katayama, author of “Urawaza,” a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. “So people looked for ways to do with what they had.” via Basics – Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems –

“Point Forward” not Back


Wow, if you ever wondered what Practicing Anthropologists do for the world, visit the Point Forward site today.

I found out about this firm’s web site by following a Google add link that was on my own LinkedIn page – yes apparently the whole “targeted advertising” thing actually works from time to time.  I was then very pleasantly surprised to find a web experience that gives much more than it takes.  Point Forward’s site is a great way to learn about the most exciting, emergent area in anthropology.  I plan to encourage my students to visit it this semester.  I really liked the cases they provided, e.g., the Chick-fil-A case and the Sony case are particularly effective.  They also offer reports for a more in depth look into the wonderful world of Practicing Anthropology.

Deep Quotes: Leonardo da Vinci on Analytic Induction

Analytic Induction is the hallmark of great ethnography.

Leonardo da Vinci, the great “pre-Principia natural philosopher” (if you will allow such an figurative appellation) that he was, was well aware of this fact, many years before it existed. Here are some choice quotations I found that illustrate my point.

Common Sense is that which judges the things given to it by other senses.

Experience does not err. Only your judgments err by expecting from her what is not in her power.

He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.

Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?

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Entrepreneurs: Are they Ferengi in Disguise?

Are entrepreneurs actually Ferengi in disguise?

Ferengi, the sniveling money grubbers of Star Trek (pictured here) seem to me to be motivated by one principle above all else: PROFIT! Conversely, entrepreneurs seem to be motivated by a different principle above all else: VALUE!

The important question then becomes: Is there any difference between PROFIT and VALUE?

The people tell us that profit generally refers to the making of gain in business activity for the benefit of the owners of the business. The word comes from Latin meaning “to make progress”. Elsewhere, the people tell us that value, or in this case, “economic value” in something is how much a desired object or condition is worth relative to other objects or conditions. Economic values are expressed as “how much” of one desirable condition or commodity will, or would be given up in exchange for some other desired condition or commodity.

Adam Smith’s “diamond-water paradox” or “paradox of value” is an effective illustration of economic value. Water is far less valuable than diamonds in the market but it is far more useful to our survival.

So, you’re in the desert for a week or two with a bag of diamonds and no more water and up walks Gunga Din with a bag of water. Sadly, he turns out to NOT be ‘a better man than you are’ as Kipling had assumed. So Gunga demands the bag of diamonds from you in exchange for the life saving water. Now the value of that water has increased even beyond the current market value of printer ink (NB: Uncle Leo once claimed printer ink to be worth around $5000 a gallon).This brings us to the saving grace of relativity and the power of entrepreneurs’ natural talent for analytic induction. Analytic induction is the very best and most original of the ethnographic skill set. Ethnographers train long and hard to hone this skill whereas many entrepreneurs seem to have it naturally. Analytic induction is often glossed as “thinking out of the box” among entrepreneurs but it is far more than that. How does one think out of the box?

Ethnomethodologists are very good at thinking out of the box because they are the best observers of social interaction. What makes their method so strong is their unwillingness to trust anything until they have seen it many times. They are so concerned that their own common sense will get the better of them, that they are perpetually trying to avoid the most natural action for all of us – making sense. Some are better at this than others are. There is evidently a knack for this sort of work. The sort of work that, I argue, is very much akin to the knack entrepreneurs have for knowing that something (like personal computers) will be valuable one day.

In summation, I therefore conclude that entrepreneurs are not Ferengi in disguise! At least not the ones I know.