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A lot of us have been looking at the recent WikiLeaks drop of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) files related to hacking Internet of Things (IoT) and personal technology devices.
It includes a lot of data, so it is easy to get lost in the woods with regard to what these tools do. But apparently they can break into devices and cast blame for it on the Russians, which I believe is problematic in a whole number of different ways.
I think the real problem with this is the CIA’s risk assessment process.
We typically associate public companies with approaches that favor relatively small tactical benefits over relatively large strategic exposures — not the CIA. I think this decision process problem is far larger than just the CIA and reflects on security in general. I also think that a deep learning tool like IBM’s Watson could, if placed in the decision process, help prevent bad decisions like this.Parsing the Problem
In my opinion, there were clearly a number of questionable decisions that led to the creation of these tools, which are largely based on vulnerabilities that existed in U.S. companies’ products. The first bad decision was opting to exploit the vulnerabilities rather than report them and have them corrected. It should be obvious that the national exposure from exploits like these likely exceed the benefit of hacking any one individual phone. To put it differently, the trade-off was between keeping our spouses, children, politicians and families safe versus the ability to hack a foreign agent.
But the CIA isn’t tasked with keeping domestic citizens safe. They are tasked with gaining intelligence. The decision may have been easy because they traded off something for which they weren’t responsible for something for which they were responsible.
When you realize this, you might conclude that the core of this problem lies with how the CIA is measured. This decision seems to be the direct result of training executives not to see the bigger picture.
I believe this also showcases that the CIA hasn’t adjusted to its new reality. Given the number of recent leaks, the new reality is that the CIA apparently can’t keep a secret. That means the tools they create to exploit others are likely being stolen and used against U.S. citizens — possibly including CIA operatives. This would suggest that the more prudent path, until the leaks can be decisively addressed, would be to create no more tools like this. They represent an excessive risk to the agency and the country. But that thought process does not seem to have been internalized.
Finally, with the loss of control of these tools, anyone using them could appear as if they were the CIA. That might allow a third party to orchestrate a hack that could potential trigger a declaration of war from a state like North Korea, which might shoot first and ask critical questions later.
In my opinion, all of this suggests that the CIA shouldn’t be creating tools like this. Instead, it should be working with the industry to correct security exposures in order to keep the nation safer instead. It should acquire hacking tools from the outside both to ensure they aren’t significantly making the hacking problem worse and to position themselves more as a defensive than offensive organization — at least until it can effectively address the leaks.Managing Risk
It seems obvious that if you can’t contain a weapon, you shouldn’t create it — unless you have a viable and ready defense that can mitigate it.
This is the real problem with the CIA leak. It has lost control over its own tools. This kind of problem, if not quickly mitigated, could lead to damage to the U.S. that could outstrip what any hostile entity could do alone. And that could be dire for the U.S. and for the CIA as an agency.
But it isn’t only the CIA that has experienced an imbalance of risk and reward. Companies like Volkswagen with its diesel scandal, Samsung with the Galaxy Note 7 phone or Takata with its faulty air bags made decisions that might look good tactically but put the entire company at risk strategically. The tactical benefit was overwhelmed by the strategic risk.
It is my fervent hope that eventually artificial intelligence (AI) systems like IBM’s Watson will be positioned to help executives keep from making foolish decisions like this. But in the meantime, I think executives likely need regular training on balancing reasonable risk and reward (not to mention an ethics refresher course).
From a broader perspective, what I envision with Watson is a communications monitor that gives an alert when an executive appears to be doing something unwise. Alerts might say “That could be considered sexual harassment — please reconsider wording and do not send,” “What you propose would be considered illegal in these countries and result in an estimated cost of $Xb if caught with jail time probability 30 percent,” or “That has to be the stupidest thing any executive has done ever —seriously consider working for our largest competitor, gold star recommendation will be in your email inbox shortly.”
I agree with Ginni Rometty, that Watson, properly applied, could significantly improve decision making (or get poor decision-makers to change companies) before the next scandal occurs.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
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Despite what many may believe, NFT art didn’t start with the Bored Ape Yacht Club. It also didn’t start with CryptoPunks. So what was the first NFT, and who created it? Ultimately, this singular honor goes to Quantum, a generative piece of art that was created by digital artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy. After its creation, Quantum was subsequently turned into an NFT by Kevin in 2014.
And the reason he minted this particular piece of art? It’s really rather simple. He did it for ownership.The birth of NFTs
After he and his wife created Quantum, McCoy wanted to develop a way to sell the piece in its digital form. The problem? He didn’t have a way of establishing the provenance of a digital piece of art.
For the uninitiated, “provenance” is the documentation that authenticates the creator, ownership history, and appraisal value of a particular piece of art. Unfortunately, provenance documents for digital art didn’t exist at the time. In other words, there was no way to verify the creator and ownership history of digital works. After mulling over his options, McCoy joined forces with tech entrepreneur Anil Dash to solve the problem. Eventually, the duo started to explore blockchain technology to see if it might provide a viable path forward.
In the early 2010s, blockchain technology was still a niche field. Bitcoin was only valued at $630 (its price at the time of writing is just over $16,500), Ethereum had just launched, and coin creators regularly overpromised, underdelivered, and got sued into oblivion. But McCoy and Dash weren’t dissuaded, and the decision paid off — to put it lightly.
Quantum. Credit: Kevin McCoy
As is widely now known, blockchain technology contains several properties that are conducive to buying and selling digital art. With it, individuals have a trustless way of identifying the creator and tracking the ownership history of any item on a blockchain. This served McCoy and Dash’s purposes perfectly, and McCoy registered Quantum on blockchain. “I had an idea to use blockchain technology to create indelible provenance and ownership of digital images of this kind. Quantum was the first ever to be recorded in this way,” McCoy later said.
Shortly after that first minting, McCoy and Dash demonstrated how “monetized graphics” like this could be used to establish provenance and sell digital art. Their demonstration occurred during a live presentation for the Seven on Seven conferences. During the presentation, McCoy sold a digital image to Dash for $4 using blockchain. And with that, McCoy and Dash unwittingly set the foundation for what would grow into a multi-billion-dollar market less than a decade later.Quantum rediscovery and controversy
Unfortunately, Quantum was forgotten following its 2014 mint. This was largely due to its original home on Namecoin, a pre-Ethereum Bitcoin offshoot. Specifically, Quantum lived on Namecoin Block 174923, and that’s where it stayed for years — until the 2023 NFT bull market.
When NFTs started to gain mainstream attention and sell for millions of dollars in 2023, McCoy realized he might be sitting on a golden egg. So he started to promote Quantum, turning to media outlets like Axios to discuss his work and its role in NFT history. Thanks largely to this publicity push, Quantum eventually went up for auction at Sotheby’s. And in June of 2023, it sold for more than one million dollars at auction. The winning bidder was sillytuna, an anonymous NFT collector.
But legal issues soon followed.
Shortly after its million-dollar sale, experts noted that a specific quirk about Namecoin called into question who exactly owned Quantum at the time of the sale. As explained by Ledger Insights, Namecoin requires users to renew whatever is minted on the Namecoin blockchain every 250 days to retain ownership of the digital item. Notably, McCoy never renewed Quantum. This allowed a completely separate entity — veteran collector EarlyNFT — to scoop up the ownership rights to Quantum before the Sotheby’s auction.
In an ironic twist, EarlyNFT secured these rights just a day after the piece about Quantum was published on Axios. Eventually, EarlyNFT contested the validity of Sotheby’s auction through a lawsuit.
Who won? Thankfully, the artists who created and minted the work. In March 2023, a New York federal Judge dismissed the lawsuit. While the Namecoin blockchain was controlled by Free Holdings, the judge noted that Kevin McCoy went on to mint it on Ethereum, essentially creating two different NFTs in the process.
While the controversy surrounding Quantum’s legacy is far from the perfect way to honor the historical NFT and its creators, both Jennifer and Kevin McCoy continue to innovate in the space. In April 2023, the pair are releasing their first NFT collection with a Web3 platform. Read our interview with the McCoys to learn about the project and hear their thoughts on how Web3 has changed since they helped start the digital revolution.
A simple fix for the new MacBook Pro’s big problem
Courage is a double-edged sword, and while consumers may have taken the death of the iPhone 7 headphone jack in their stride, professionals aren’t being so generous with the new MacBook Pro. Apple’s decision to ditch almost all the legacy ports on its flagship notebook was done in the name of ushering in widespread adoption of Thunderbolt 3 and enabling a thinner machine. However, while Thunderbolt 3 may undoubtedly be a better connector than the bevy of sockets along the edge of the old MacBook Pro, the Cupertino firm’s decision to go slim has frustrated many who have legacy devices to plug in, and who were hoping for a more significant power upgrade.
Listen to that cohort, and Apple has clearly lost its way. The MacBook Pro was once “a truck” they point out, a powerhouse that made performance – CPU, GPU, and memory, for the most part – its lodestar and left the aesthetic to shape itself around that. Now, in an age of 4K video processing and virtual reality rendering, the new MacBook Pro has been distracted with Touch Bar fripperies and forgotten its true purpose.
Perhaps, though, the truck just needs an optional trailer.
In the interests of transparency, I should say I’ve been asking for something along these lines since 2013. Back then, I was hoping for an upgrade to the original Thunderbolt Display, which even then was already a couple of years old. With the state of hardware at the time, I was envisaging a combination monitor, external drive, port hub, and graphics chip all hooked up over a Thunderbolt 2 cable – perfect for the Mac Pro which had just launched.
Apple never bothered updating the Thunderbolt Display and, earlier this year, axed it from the line-up altogether. Indeed, the latest suggestions are that the company has exited the standalone monitor space altogether, preferring to leave the segment to third-party manufacturers like LG. In fact, an LG Thunderbolt 3 display got an on-stage mention at the event last week.
It’s not such a bad idea. There’s no denying that LG Display, the company’s LCD arm, makes great panels: after all, Apple uses them on the iMac 5K. Monitor margins are traditionally low, though, so leaving third-party companies to fill the gap makes bottom-line sense for Apple too.
Problem is, while the LG UltraFine 5K Display – with its $1,299.95 price tag – has three USB-C downstream ports on the back, you’re still going to need dongles if you want USB Type-A, ethernet, a memory card reader, or other “legacy” connections. That’s still not ideal. So, if Apple isn’t going to replace the Thunderbolt Display, what could it have in mind?
More ports, and a broader range of ports, would be table stakes of course. The current Mac Mini has gigabit ethernet, HDMI, two Thunderbolt 2, four USB 3, an SDXC card slot, and audio in/out. Apple would only need to switch Thunderbolt 2 for 3 to bring it up to speed, though a second display output – since you can drive two 4K panels from a single Thunderbolt 3 connection – would be nice as well.
Onboard storage would, I suspect, be optional. Some people will be content with the high-speed SSD inside their shiny new MacBook Pro, or satisfied with a more mainstream external HDD for periodic backups. However, Apple’s markup on storage upgrades are notorious, and could be a neat little cash-cow for a Thunderbolt 3 dock.
What could really set such a hub aside, though, is an external GPU. Much has been made of Apple’s decision to use Radeon Pro 400 Series chips in the new 15-inch MacBook Pro; after all, there’s already faster silicon in AMD’s lineup. The argument is that it’s a performance/power/size matter: try to squeeze in anything more potent and you can no longer make the ten hour battery life promise, or slim the chassis down to 15.5 mm thick.
I’m not going to add to the argument about whether that’s a trade off decision the professional audience traditionally drawn to the MacBook Pro would have made, but I do think Apple could pitch an external GPU dock as an answer. By offloading graphics processing to meatier silicon in an external box with no real ambitions of portability, Apple wouldn’t have to think about power consumption, heat, or size. Indeed, it could eschew mobile GPUs altogether and drop in desktop-class graphics if it wanted.
It’s questionable how many power-users need the most potent graphics processing while on the move. Many of those voicing concerns about the Radeon Pro 400 Series I’ve seen have pitched their MacBook Pro as more like an all-in-one desktop that can be transported, rather than a machine they take from coffee shop to coffee shop, hot-desking while rendering VR in 4K. Their argument is that they use their notebook plugged in and so power consumption isn’t an issue.
Delivering the sort of graphics performance which will satisfy that crowd is a lot easier in an external form-factor. It also allows Apple to continue to pitch the 15-inch MacBook Pro as a mobile workhorse with lengthy battery life, in addition to offering 13-inch MacBook Pro owners a GPU option beyond the Intel Iris 540/550 graphics the smaller model tops out at. Clearly, there are some users who don’t want a full 15-inch notebook in their backpack, but who wouldn’t argue with an extra slice of GPU ability at times too.
Best of all – from Apple’s perspective, at least – it would be another income stream. The Thunderbolt Display cost $999; a Thunderbolt 3 dock with an onboard GPU could, theoretically, cost significantly more depending on the graphics chip included. Certainly there’d be complaints from some, but when you’re faced with spending $200 to switch the Radeon Pro 450 2GB to its 460/4GB sibling in the 15-inch notebook, splashing out on a potentially far more potent GPU in a hub with port flexibility and perhaps onboard storage might be easier to swallow, especially if it can be shared between two or more computers.
NOW READ: New MacBook Pro hands-on
Would such a distribution of power be accepted by the pro users traditionally most vocal in their praise of Apple’s hardware? It’s hard to imagine how the company could satisfy its own goals of thinner devices, maintaining battery longevity, and pushing wholeheartedly for new connectors, while simultaneously giving professionals the notebook they want, all in a single form-factor. Not without some vast improvement in battery technology, at least.
Arguably, splitting the hardware up makes a lot of sense, given the sort of work many MacBook Pro owners are doing. For those with a focus on 4K design – whether 2D or 3D – a large external display seems an inevitability. Why not split out the graphics processing too?
Usually, with Windows 10, you do not have to look far to solve your errors. This is thanks to the built-in troubleshooters which allow users to locate the cause of an error and subsequently solve it as well. Windows Update troubleshooter is very important for users who cannot update their version of Windows.
‘A problem is preventing the troubleshooter from starting’
Here I shall discuss how you can solve this error easily using the following solutions.
We have shown a VIDEO walk through at the end of the post for easy solution.
Windows online troubleshooting service is disabled.
Windows update troubleshooter won’t run.
The troubleshooting wizard can’t continue.
An error occurred while troubleshooting.
These errors are usually all branches of the same error and can be solved using a similar set of solutions. Let’s look in detail at how you can solve this error easily.
Since Windows services are responsible for proper maintenance of the applications and their features, the associated applications can malfunction if the services get locked up. Restarting these services should free up the applications, therefore regaining normal functioning.
Follow these steps carefully to restart the necessary Windows Services:
Open a Run dialog by pressing Win + R keys.
Type chúng tôi and press Enter to launch the Services console.
Change the startup type to Automatic from the drop-down menu.Cryptographic services
Restart your computer once you have restarted all the necessary Windows services.
Now check if you are able to update Windows without getting the error message. The problem should now be resolved.
Your firewall is involved in protecting your Windows device from malicious users by closely monitoring the data exchange that takes place over your network connection. However, and incorrectly functioning firewall may result in all network activity being blocked, leading to the Windows update troubleshooter won’t run error message.
Disable firewall and check if the error persists.
If you have third-party antivirus software for security purposes, the antivirus can also affect the data transfer across the network connection. Disable the antivirus shields and check if the Windows Update error persists.
To verify if this is the case, follow these steps:
Note: The Local Group Policy Editor is available only in Windows 10 Pro and above. Check out this article to know how to enable gpedit in Windows 10 home.
Open the Local Group Policy Editor, by typing chúng tôi in a Run dialog and pressing Enter.
Configure Security Policy for Scripted Diagnostics
Else, make sure that all the entries are at Not configured state, which is the optimal state for the normal functioning of Windows Update Troubleshooter.
Restart your device for the changes to take effect.
Now when you try to launch the Update Troubleshooter, you should not see any error messages.
This is a workaround that was reported in some Windows forums. This solution involves changing the user Account Control notification prompt that appears when any app tries to make a system-level change to your computer. The idea behind this may be to allow Windows Update to make changes with administrator privileges.
Adjust User Account Control Settings to Never Notify and check if the Update error persists. You should be able to update Windows freely.
You may also see the ‘Windows online troubleshooting service is disabled’ error message when there is a problem in the Windows Update Components. Luckily, you can easily solve this by resetting the Windows Update components manually.
If none of the solutions provided above helped you in solving this error, there is a chance that there are some broken system files on your computer. These damaged files can lead to many features not working properly on your computer. Luckily, in Windows 10 you can use the built-in utilities to repair these files.
Run the DISM and SFC scans to locate and repair broken system files on your computer. Check if you still see ‘an error occurred while troubleshooting’ error message.
So there you have it. Now you know how to solve if you see the ‘a problem is preventing the troubleshooter from starting’ error message. Did you find this useful? Comment below if you did, and to discuss further the same.
The internet of things, sometimes known as IoT, is a network of actual objects. Without the assistance of a human, these gadgets can exchange data. Computers and equipment are not the only types of IoT devices. Anything having a sensor and a special identification number can be part of the internet of things (UID). The main objective of the internet of things is to develop self-reporting technology that can interact with users and other devices in real-time. Many pros and cons can be associated with it, as with any other thing. Looking at them can help a person understand IoT more finely.Pros of the Internet of Things
There are several pros associated with the Internet of Things. These can be stated as follows −Automation and Control are Ensured
Making your life easier, the IoT is serving more than the purposes that you might know. With the help of Google’s and Amazon’s voice assistants, internet-connected appliances like humidifiers, coffee makers, and air conditioners can all be turned on or off with just a few voice commands. You can also automate their routines.
Controlling your devices is easier as you don’t have to do things manually. One can use IoT devices for commercial and industrial applications to manage a variety of machinery in an office or factory, including robotic assembly lines, production lines, printers, and many more.Access to Information
Uninterrupted information flow is one of the main benefits of the internet of things. Internet-connected devices can exchange data at the speed of light, resulting in fewer delays and a decreased risk of misunderstandings.
Real-time information updates, such as product movement, would enable new stock to be ordered automatically at the ideal moment and in the perfect quantity.
Other environments, including nuclear power plants or grain silos, require real-time monitoring. An IoT system can receive data from sensors measuring humidity or temperature and utilise that information to manage these settings automatically.Data Collection in an Advanced Manner Cost Reduction
This might provide several benefits, including improved inventory control, lower research costs, and even lower prices for raw materials manufacturing and delivery. Pricing should decrease as businesses get more intelligent. It is one of the reasons companies want to invest in it.Cons of the Internet of Things
There are a few cons of the Internet of Things. These are −Privacy and Security
Another issue to be aware of is data privacy, particularly because IoT devices are being employed in more delicate sectors like finance and healthcare. Globally enacting information privacy rules also means that firms must protect data by the law, which is in addition to being a smart business decision. Due to their expansion and evolution, IoT devices can be quite challenging regarding the safety of the data. Moreover, not always are the IoT devices included in the cyber security policy.Technical Intricacies
Deploying IoT devices may need much learning. Before investing in them, it becomes sensible to have a plan of how and why to use them. You can be certain that they are operating as planned in this manner.
Although they help businesses monitor, track and analyse their data better, IoT devices can be quite technical. The errors occurred are not always easy to fix and might need a professional working on the problem.IoT’s Dependence on Connectivity and Power
The internet and constant power are required to operate many gadgets properly. Both the gadget and anything attached to it fail when either one does. Given how ingrained IoT devices are in today’s businesses when they go down, everything can come to a screeching halt. The incident management and troubleshooting processes can help the employees when the systems are down. Otherwise, the working processes get hampered, affecting the efficiency of IoT. You can have multiple things affected just because there is an interruption in the network or power.Greater Consumption of Money and Time
Organizations can avoid many possible challenges they might otherwise face by preparing the deployment budget and strategy before procurement. However, deploying IoT devices frequently requires significant time and financial effort. Numerous devices must be bought and set up, personnel to install them, others to integrate them into the network, and support calls to the manufacturer for assistance. Businesses can swiftly recover their investment if they all go to a single site. The cost should climb rapidly if the company is dispersing them.Conclusion
This article was originally featured on Undark.
Nearly 2 million people, most of them Black or Latino men, are locked up in the United States. In October 2023, the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, published a report arguing that correctional officials should examine the biology of imprisoned people — their hormones, their brains, and perhaps even their genes.
The report describes a future in which corrections sounds a bit more like practicing medicine than meting out punishment. Correctional programs would gather information about incarcerated peoples’ cortisol levels, heart rate, genes, and brain chemistry, and more. They would then use that data to tailor interventions to specific individuals (say, offering one person mindfulness training, and another ADHD medication), and to help estimate the risk that someone will reoffend.
To some, such a proposal may sound invasive, even dystopian. The report’s author, Sam Houston State University biopsychosocial criminologist Danielle Boisvert, suggests it offers a chance to streamline a clunky system: By “excluding known biological and genetic factors that affect behavior,” she wrote in the report, “the criminal justice system may be suppressing its ability to fully benefit from its correctional efforts.” (Boisvert did not respond to requests for an interview.)
The DOJ report represents a new frontier in the discipline of biosocial criminology — a decades-long effort to bring biology back to the study of crime. Researchers in the field have scanned the brains of people convicted of murder and scoured the genomes of teenagers who belong to gangs. Biosocial criminology is “really a kind of smorgasbord of a lot of other disciplines, but trying to apply it to human behavior — and specifically antisocial behavior,” said J.C. Barnes, a biosocial criminologist at the University of Cincinnati.
Today, some of the nation’s top-ranked criminology programs are thriving hubs of biosocial research. Biosocial criminologists teach future prosecutors, law enforcement, and correctional officers.
But the rise of biosocial criminology has also sparked alarm among some scholars, who argue that the science is shoddy — and that racist ideas and assumptions animate the field. “The work that they’re doing is really serious, and really dangerous,” said Viviane Saleh-Hanna, a professor of crime and justice studies at UMass-Dartmouth.
Indeed, the use of biology has long divided criminologists. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, criminologists measured the skulls of imprisoned people and analyzed their bone structure. Often, they drew blatantly racist conclusions. Even as biosocial criminology grows more mainstream, it remains an open question whether the discipline can be disentangled from that racist past. A close review of the relevant literature shows that some biosocial criminologists have drawn on discredited ideas that describe Black people as inherently predisposed to crime.
Others, while steering away from writing about race, appear to largely tolerate that work. “There doesn’t seem to be a pushback against the folks who are writing about this in the field,” said Oliver Rollins, a medical sociologist at the University of Washington and the author of “Conviction: The Making and Unmaking of the Violent Brain,” a 2023 book about neuroscience and crime. “No one’s challenging these kind of racist components to the science, or the research.”
Talk with criminologists about biology, and one name comes up again and again: Cesare Lombroso. Born in 1835 in northern Italy, Lombroso trained as a physician. He soon grew fascinated with the physiology of people who had been convicted of crimes.
Lombroso’s work has been widely discredited. But his influence, historians say, was considerable — including among eugenicists in the early 20th century who sought to identify and eliminate strains of what they saw as degeneracy in populations. “Criminologists consider it edifying to believe that a man can be saved by grace, but refuse to admit that he can be damned by germ plasm,” the American eugenicist Earnest Hooton complained in 1932, reporting on the results of a study of 16,000 incarcerated people. His conclusion: Biology mattered. “I am beginning to suspect that Lombroso, like Darwin, was right,” he wrote.
Among them was Anthony Walsh. A former police officer, Walsh entered graduate school in his mid-30s, moonlighting as a probation and parole officer to support his young family. By 1984, he was an assistant professor of criminal justice at Boise State University, preparing students for careers in the criminal justice system. His early research mostly examined sentencing guidelines and the probation process.
Over time, though, Walsh grew frustrated with his colleagues. He thought they spent too much time focusing on the social causes of crime. “Everything and everybody was accountable for the crime, except the guy who committed it,” he told Undark in a 2023 interview. In particular, Walsh wondered if fields like genetics and evolutionary biology could help explain why some people offend, and others do not.
Those kinds of inquiries could face backlash. For example, in 1992, the National Institutes of Health agreed to fund a conference on genetics and crime. The federal science agency later withdrew the funding after an uproar, fueled by revelations that a key organizer had once seemingly compared Black urban neighborhoods to jungles. Critics worried that genetics would become a high-tech tool for racial profiling.
Criminologists like Walsh did little to dispel such fears. In 1997, he and a colleague, Lee Ellis, drew on the speculative theories of a white-supremacist aligned psychologist to suggest that White people had evolved to be less violent than Black people, and that biology could explain why more Black people than White people end up imprisoned.
To most crime researchers, those claims have serious problems. Decades of research — in many disciplines — have documented how generations of racism, disenfranchisement, and uneven policing disproportionately direct Black people, poor people, and other marginalized groups into the criminal justice system.
At the same time, experts in human evolution say, biology is a terrible tool for explaining these kinds of racial disparities. For one thing, racial categories are just rough attempts to describe the biological variation among human beings, rather than fixed, coherent categories of people who have evolved along different trajectories. For another, even if scientists can sometimes identify average genetic differences among socially defined groups, those differences tend to be very slight — and have no obvious link to a complex social phenomenon like violent behavior.
It’s “just kind of fascinating that we would presume that there is something that’s so simplistic about complex behaviors, that it could map on to something like skin color in a fairly straightforward way,” said Deborah Bolnick, an expert in human evolution and genetics at the University of Connecticut.
Despite such concerns, Walsh and his co-author published their theory in the field’s flagship journal, Criminology. And Walsh soon found himself gaining new colleagues who were interested in biology and crime. Starting in the late 1990s, a growing number of criminologists turned to biology, aiming to integrate genetics, neuroscience, and sociology to produce more robust theories of crime. Some feared they would face professional repercussions for doing so. “My mentor, when I told him what I was doing, was like, ‘John, don’t do this,’” said John Paul Wright, a criminologist at the University of Cincinnati and an early proponent of using genetics to study crime. “He was worried about the consequences for my career.”
Wright and others called the emerging discipline biosocial criminology — a rebranding that was complete by 2009, when Walsh and a colleague edited a book, “Biosocial Criminology,” featuring essays from leading scholars in the young field. (Boisvert, the author of the DOJ report, contributed to a chapter.) A preface, written by another Cincinnati criminologist, Francis T. Cullen, acknowledged the discipline’s troubled history. Biosocial criminologists, he wrote, “will have to show how the new paradigm rejects its repressive heritage.”
Not everyone was convinced that biosocial criminology was so different from its predecessors.
Saleh-Hanna, the UMass-Dartmouth professor, began attending the annual American Society of Criminologists conference in the 1990s, as a student. She soon gravitated towards panels on biology and crime.
At these sessions, Saleh-Hanna sat in the back. She took notes. She rarely spoke. Usually, she said, she was the only Black person — in fact, the only person of color — in the room. “I always felt like I had a responsibility to my own communities to go and listen,” Saleh-Hanna told Undark. “I always knew that they were talking about us.”
The basic process described at the conference, Saleh-Hanna said, felt like a throwback to Lombroso: Scientists looked at the bodies of poor, marginalized people, isolated some biological characteristic, and used it to suggest that those people were inferior or dangerous. “They’re still doing that same work,” Saleh-Hanna said, “but they’re using this new scientific language.”
Indeed, biosocial criminologists have sometimes used new techniques to circle back to an old conclusion: that biology can help explain why the criminal justice system locks up so many people of color. There’s scant scientific evidence to support that claim. Still, in the same 2009 volume in which Cullen urged the field to reject “its repressive heritage,” his University of Cincinnati colleague, Wright, wrote a chapter arguing that biological differences among racial groups explain disparities in crime.
Portions of the field would go on to celebrate those ideas: Despite Walsh’s ongoing writing about race and crime, the Biosocial Criminology Association honored him with its lifetime achievement award in 2014, citing his “invaluable impact on our current understanding of why people commit crime and delinquency.”
In 2023, six criminologists, several teaching at large public universities, published a sweeping “unified crime theory” in Aggression and Violent Behavior, a peer-reviewed criminology journal put out by scientific publisher Elsevier. In the paper, they draw heavily on the work of the late J. Philippe Rushton, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario. Now largely discredited by the scientific community, Rushton spent much of his career arguing that White people have evolved to be smarter, more altruistic, and less violent than Black people. Twisting a theory from ecology, Rushton also argued that some racial groups have evolved to be more fertile — but, in a kind of tradeoff, have also evolved to be more aggressive, less able to exercise self-control, and less intelligent.
Many scientists now describe Rushton’s work as incoherent, riddled with errors, and blatantly racist; his own university eventually disavowed him. The theory is “pulp science fiction” that’s “draped in the lingo of evolutionary theory,” Yale University ecology and evolutionary biology assistant professor C. Brandon Ogbunu wrote in a recent essay for Undark.
Bolnick, the Connecticut researcher, said that Rushton’s theory treats humans as “reproductive machines,” in a way that doesn’t really reflect how people live. “It doesn’t map onto the way any human societies operate, or any families operate,” she said. And Rushton and his acolytes also selectively apply the theory, she said, in ways that mostly just repackage old stereotypes: For example, they spend little time considering the large families of White settlers in the 19th century U.S.
Still, for years, Rushton’s work was cited in the biosocial criminology literature. In the 2023 paper, the researchers drew on Rushton to speculate that this evolutionary path could help explain racial disparities in convictions.
Later that year, the lead author of the paper, Brian Boutwell, took to the right-wing magazine Quillette to complain that biosocial criminologists were being shunned by their colleagues. Around that time, Boutwell and one of his co-authors on the paper, Florida State University criminologist Kevin Beaver, appeared separately on the show of alt-right podcaster Stefan Molyneux to talk about the links between crime, biology, and race. (Wright, one of the Cincinnati professors, appeared on the show too.)
Shunned or not, the authors of the paper maintained active careers. Boutwell is now an associate professor at the University of Mississippi. One of his co-authors, J.C. Barnes, was until recently the chair of the Biopsychosocial Criminology division of the American Society of Criminology. Another co-author, Beaver, now directs the Biosocial Criminology Research & Policy Institute at Florida State University, and he maintains an affiliation with King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. (Beaver did not respond to requests for an interview.)
Many biosocial criminologists are skeptical of such work on race, and worry it will hamper their efforts to gain broader acceptance for their techniques, according to Julien Larregue, a sociologist at Université Laval in Quebec who has studied the field. But, he noted, that criticism is mostly informal: “If you look at publications, I don’t find a lot of pushback.”
In the broader field of criminology, though, some experts have raised questions about certain methods that biosocial researchers use. In particular, some have questioned efforts to draw a line from specific genes to criminality or antisocial behavior.
One of the most persistent critics has been Callie Burt, an associate professor at Georgia State University. Around 10 years ago, Burt was asked to review a paper examining genetics and crime. Trained in sociology, she quickly realized she didn’t have the tools to follow the argument. Undeterred, Burt dove into the genetics literature. “I’ve learned that we know a lot more about genetics than I realized,” she said. “But the more we learn, the more complicated things are.”
Burt had plenty to catch up on. The first sequencing of the full human genome, completed in 2000, was accompanied by a wave of new research aiming to tie specific genes to specific outcomes. Biosocial criminologists embraced that work. In the 2000s, some gravitated toward a then-trendy method called a candidate gene study, in which researchers look at whether a specific gene may be linked to certain traits. Some focused on a hypothesized link between violent behavior and a gene called MAOA. (“‘Gangsta Gene’ Identified in U.S. Teens” read one 2009 headline from ABC News, reporting on work by Beaver and colleagues.) But subsequent research has cast doubt on most candidate gene studies, including those purporting a connection between MAOA and violence. “That finding’s not in great shape,” said Michael “Doc” Edge, a population geneticist at the University of Southern California.
Recently, some biosocial criminologists, including Boutwell and Barnes, have been joining with behavioral geneticists and other scientists on genome wide association studies, or GWAS (pronounced GEE-wahs). The technique, pioneered in the past two decades, scans vast databases of genetic data, looking for correlations between particular genes and certain outcomes, such as height, IQ, or college graduation.
Burt and others argue that even these high-powered new studies rest on some misguided assumptions. Like many other experts, she’s skeptical that it’s possible to disentangle nature and nurture so neatly — in part because the categories of crime and antisocial behavior are themselves so slippery.
The problem, according to Burt and other experts, is that crime and antisocial behavior aren’t straightforward, easy-to-measure traits. Rather, these behaviors are socially constructed and highly variable. Something that’s a crime in one state — such as smoking pot — may be legal one state over. An aggressive action — such as punching someone repeatedly until they lose consciousness — may be celebrated in one context (a boxing ring) and illegal in another (a bar). And two people can be treated very differently for doing the exact same thing: Research suggests that Black elementary school children, for example, are likelier to receive disciplinary action than White children, independent of their actual behavior. And studies often find that Black adults who use drugs are likelier to be arrested and incarcerated than White adults who use drugs.
“We behave in context,” Burt said. She brought up an example: People who have “biological propensities — and I can agree that we have different ones — that might lead to impulsivity or risk-taking or even selfishness and disregard for other people, sort of predatory activities.” In an affluent environment, Burt said, someone with those traits may end up flourishing: They go to Wall Street, where their predatory behaviors lead to large paychecks. Meanwhile, “someone growing in inner city, with not those opportunities,” she added, “may end up engaging in predatory behaviors that are criminalized.”
Burt and other critics say that biosocial accounts of crime just don’t fully account for this complexity. A study linking, say, high testosterone levels with felonies runs the risk of implying that testosterone levels are immutable — and that felonies are somehow a set natural property, like the height of a person or the length of a day, rather than a contingent and shifting target.
Saleh-Hanna sees that as a fundamental problem in the field, one going all the way back to Lombroso. “He created this impression, that we still struggle with every day in this society, this impression that crime can be objectively scientifically defined external to the human perception,” she said. As a consequence, she added, “these notions of crime and criminality continue to be seen as natural parts of human societies.”
Certain biases, scholars say, also shape which kinds of crimes end up under the scrutiny of biological methods — and which do not. “We don’t have a notion that crimes of finance are explained by biology,” said Troy Duster, an emeritus professor of sociology at UC Berkeley. “‘Let’s take the DNA samples of the people who were involved in the Enron scandal’ — no one suggested that.” It’s only when Black, Brown, and poor White people are involved, Duster and other scholars suggest, that criminologists start to turn to biology to understand what might have gone wrong.
Recently, some genetics researchers have tried to address some of these concerns by broadening their target to “antisocial behavior” — a catchall category that can include criminal conviction, but also things like personality test results and behavior in school, although these, too, come with their own biases.
In 2013 Jorim Tielbeek, at the time a geneticist and crime scholar at VU Medical Center Amsterdam, founded the Broad Antisocial Behavior Consortium, or BroadABC, a global network of scholars who hope to uncover some of the genes associated with antisocial behaviors. (The group’s first paper, published in 2023, briefly cites some of Boutwell and his colleagues’ work involving Rushton.) In late October, the consortium published their most recent study, which draws on genetic data from more than 85,000 people.
How much that kind of research can explain remains disputed. For all the power of new tools like GWAS, some geneticists say, they have only highlighted how incredibly complex the relationship is between genes and their environment.
The process, these experts say, is even harder when studying a complicated social outcome like a criminal conviction. Eric Turkheimer, a behavior geneticist at the University of Virginia known for his skeptical takes, told Undark that he would be surprised if such approaches could account for even 1 percent of the variance among something like criminality, once researchers control for confounding factors. “And if that’s true,” he asked, “what good is it?”
Some biosocial criminologists say those sorts of concerns have pushed them to reconsider elements of their work. Boutwell, the University of Mississippi professor, said he has revised his thinking. “I think our sociological colleagues make a stronger case when they talk about the historical cultural factors that have underpinned the disparities that we see,” he said, adding that he no longer stands behind his previous work on race.
One of his collaborators, Barnes, also described changing his approach. Barnes grew up in South Carolina; his stepfather and two siblings work in law enforcement. As a graduate student, he studied with Kevin Beaver at Florida State; a senior scholar in the field described him, in an email, as “possibly the most articulate leader of the younger generation.” In an interview with Undark, Barnes said reading the work of Turkheimer and the behavioral geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden had pushed him to take a far more cautious approach to making claims about genetics and crime. He pointed to a more recent, measured paper on genetics and crime that he wrote in 2023. That paper calls on biosocial researchers to pay close attention to social and environmental factors, rather than focusing on genes in isolation. Still, the paper suggests that genetics could say something meaningful about why the criminal justice system incarcerates so many people of color. “The amount of time and care I put into that article,” he said, “is where I wanted things to be focused from there forward.”
Barnes said he’s grown more cautious in drawing conclusions about the complicated factors that drive people to crime. “It’s clear our genetic and biological makeup have an impact on our behavior,” Barnes said. “But can we get much more specific than that? I don’t think we can at this point.”
At least some criminologists have found themselves in a kind of gray area — at once skeptical of certain biosocial explanations of crime, but still open to the idea that biology plays some role in understanding violence and transgression.
When the criminologist Michael Rocque was in graduate school, he worked closely with the late Nicole Hahn Rafter, a feminist criminologist who devoted much of her career to studying Lombroso’s grim legacy, including his influence on the American eugenics movement. Working with Rafter, Rocque said in a recent interview, had an unexpected effect: It pushed him to consider how biology could still be used to responsibly to think about crime.
Today, Rocque is an associate professor at Bates College, and he has published studies documenting how bias affects the disciplinary action faced by young Black students. He’s also a co-author, with Barnes and another colleague, of a recent book on biopsychosocial criminology, and he occasionally uses biosocial methods in his work. “I have just read too much empirical research, and seen too much evidence that genes do matter,” he said. “They’re part of the story when it comes to understanding and explaining criminal behavior.”
Still, he cautioned, studies of things like genetics or neuroscience in crime often remain tentative — and not ready for applied use now. And if they ever are ready for applied use, he said, there will have to be protections in place to make sure their use is beneficial. “In my view, we’re not at the stage where any of this stuff can be put into practice in a responsible way,” said Rocque.
That hasn’t stopped some researchers from exploring potential applications. In fall 2023, the National Institute of Justice held an online symposium to announce a new volume on the study of people who desist from crime. “This volume is a significant achievement in the field of criminal justice research,” said Amy Solomon, a senior Department of Justice official appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, in introductory remarks.
Included in the volume was the 2023 report by Danielle Boisvert, the Sam Houston State criminologist. (Rocque also contributed a chapter.) In a presentation during the session, Boisvert discussed some of the many tools that a biologically-informed correctional system might use. At times, those tools seemed to blur the line between corrections and medical care: For example, Boisvert argued that neuropsychological and physiological testing could help identify developmental issues in incarcerated people, and allow them to receive appropriate care. Such testing could potentially help prisons better evaluate whether or not someone is likely to end up incarcerated again. In some cases, she argued, they may even make a case for keeping a person out of prison altogether.
Afterward, a DOJ staffer posed a question to Boisvert: How could these techniques avoid “condemning people from birth based on their biological characteristics?” Boisvert called for programs that focus on the way the environment manifests in the body — “trauma, abuse, neglect, substance use, traumatic brain injury, lead exposure” — rather than on people’s genes.
“There are other noninvasive low-cost ways that we can incorporate biological factors into assessments,” she said, “that don’t rely on DNA.”
Many experts remain skeptical that such interventions could ever do much to fix a criminal justice system they describe as systemically racist and deeply broken. “If you’re only making that system more efficient, then racism will continue to exist,” said Rollins, the University of Washington sociologist. Things like neurobiological models of crime, he said, aren’t able to address such fundamental problems.
“The only thing that they can really do,” he added, “is reinforce what’s already there.”
This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.
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