I am a McKnight Land-Grant Professor and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, where I direct the Shen Neurolaw Lab. Our motto is: Every story is a brain story, and we focus our attention on the ways in which law and public policy can be improved through integration of brain science. I also serve as Executive Director of Education and Outreach activities for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. Previously I was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Tulane University Law School and The Murphy Institute; a Visiting Scholar at Vanderbilt University Law School; Associate Director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project; and a Lecturer at Harvard University. Recent publications are available for download on SSRN.
I received my B.A. from the University of Chicago (studying English and Economics), my J.D. from Harvard Law School (where I did my clinical work in a local district attorney’s office), and my Ph.D. in Government and Social Policy from the Harvard Government Department and the Harvard Kennedy School (completing a 550-page dissertation combining political science, psychology, public policy, and law).
I am always looking for new collaborators both within and beyond academia, so if you like what you see please send me an email. Students interested in research opportunities: please see the Research Assistant Hiring page.
The emerging field of law and neuroscience is growing fast: courts are seeing more cases each year; legislatures are considering brain science more frequently; and scholarship in neurolaw is steadily growing. I am lucky to be a part of these developments. I’ve written several pieces (available on SSRN), and as Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, I plan events to introduce neurolaw to interested judges and lawyers across the country.
I have also co-authored (with Owen Jones and Jeffrey Schall, both of Vanderbilt University) the first Law and Neuroscience coursebook. The coursebook was published by Aspen Publishers in 2014. The coursebook includes coverage of topics such as responsibility, evidence, lie detection, adolescent brains, mental health, brain death, addiction, and brain injury. I used the book materials to teach a Law and the Brain seminar at Tulane in Fall 2011, and I now use the materials to teach my Law and Neuroscience course at the University of Minnesota.
In Fall 2011 I published a criminal law article in the New York University Law Review: Sorting Guilty Minds (co-authored with Morris Hoffman, Owen Jones, Joshua Greene, and Rene Marois). The article was cited in a Petition For A Writ Of Certiorari filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2012. The article was also featured in The National Law Journal, and further picked up by a number of related outlets (see for example: here, here, and here). We have since followed up with The Language of Mens Rea, in which we further extend the work.
These articles, and related on-going work, explores whether jurors understand and apply the criminal mental state categories the way that the widely influential Model Penal Code (MPC) assumes. Our results suggest the need for a critical reexamination of the substantial divide between the expectations and assumptions of the criminal codes, on one hand, and empirical reality, on the other.
America’s urban school districts educate a majority of the country’s children, and many of these big cities continue to face a myriad of challenges in achieving acceptable levels of student achievement. One possible route to reform, promoted heavily by the Obama administration, is to put big city mayors in charge of school districts. Through a series of empirical studies (including the co-authored 2007 book, The Education Mayor), I have examined the effect of these mayoral control laws on student achievement, district financial health, and public confidence in the school system. One of these studies, Community Support For Mayoral Control Of Urban School Districts: A Critical Reexamination, is an empirical analysis arguing that statutory safeguards for democracy — in the form of citywide referenda on mayoral control — are not adequate because of unequal patterns of participation.
Our most recent report was published by the Center for American Progress in 2013: Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement.
The culmination of six years of research, The Casualty Gap was published in 2010. The book, which I co-authored with friend and former Harvard graduate school classmate Douglas Kriner (now an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boston University), shows how American war casualties have hailed disproportionately from socio-economically disadvantaged communities since the 1950s and explores the ramifications of these gaps for politics, policymaking and the vibrancy of American democracy. We wrote this op-ed featured in the Los Angeles Times on Memorial Day Weekend 2010. In addition to the book, we have articles published or forthcoming in: The American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Legislative Studies Quarterly.
In conjunction with my research on neurolaw, I am looking to extend work in this policy domain by shifting focus from fatal to non-fatal casualties. Of importance are questions related to veterans’ mental health, veterans in the criminal justice system, and coverage for brain injuries sustained during combat.