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UW-Madison starts new dual-degree program in neuroscience and law

June 15, 2011 By Jill Sakai

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has established an integrated dual-degree program in neuroscience and law that offers students the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience and a J.D. in law.

It plans to enroll its first class in fall 2012.

“The Program in Neuroscience and Law will train neuroscientists who also are competent in the law and prepare them to address the many important legal, scientific and public policy issues at the intersection of neuroscience and law,” says Ronald Kalil, director of the UW–Madison Neuroscience and Public Policy Program, which will administer the new dual-degree option.

Even as recent advances in neuroscience call into question many assumptions underlying aspects of the legal system, such as the importance of personal responsibility, courts are grappling with how to handle new kinds of evidence.

Neural imaging and other new neuro-technologies, such as brain implantation for therapeutic purposes, may influence legal determinations of competence. Evidence of brain trauma or brain disorders may be presented as grounds for mitigating criminal penalties, or developmental neuroscience findings as support for particular custody arrangements in family law cases. Courts are confronting the question of whether to admit results from brain imaging as evidence of lying, and law enforcement professionals are considering using such technology for screening and surveillance.

As medical technologies advance and understanding of brain functioning improves, it is likely that neuroscience will play an increasingly important role in helping to inform legal processes and decision-making, Kalil says.

“Despite national and international interest in the junction of neuroscience and law, there have been very few opportunities in the country to date to educate students in both fields,” he says. “UW-Madison’s formal program in neuroscience and law will help to remedy this shortcoming.”

The Neuroscience and Public Policy Program also offers tracks in neuroscience and domestic or international public affairs. For more information about the Program in Neuroscience and Law, visit