The Scientific Indian

Misuse of science in Bombay trials

A C Grayling in his regular column in New Scientist questions the use of Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature (it’s like polygraph, for the brain) in a criminal case in Bombay where life sentences were given to accused based on Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature (BEOS) reports from forensic labs.

I choose the following words carefully: the utter irresponsibility involved here, and its attendant outrage of justice, is staggering. It is yet another example of how technology is increasingly misapplied and abused, and represents a major threat to civil liberties.

BEOS profiling is a hopelessly crude procedure piggy-backing on sophisticated brain scanning techniques which reveal the involvement of regions of the brain in emotion, movement, memory and other functions. It involves an electroencephalogram combined with a word association test. EEG electrodes are placed on a subject’s head, and a text is read out. Intensification of EEG readings simultaneous with given phrases are interpreted as constituting the sought-for evidence of – in the case of the accused in the Maharashtra murder trial – guilt.

I am astonished. How the hell is this evidence admissible? How does one differentiate between the ‘Experiential knowledge’ nonsense that the TOI report spouts and just an anxiety reaction to the tests? This sets a precedent that, if it goes uncontested, would surely lead to more and more misuse of science in the name of speedy trials. A travesty of justice as Grayling says, and no different from mob justice.