Latest reviews from Nature and Science of ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’, Harvard University Press, 2015 – Now available

Display in Politics and Prose, Washington, DC
Display in Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

Instead of simply providing utilitarian arguments, [O’Mara] argues that there is no evidence from psychology or neuroscience for many of the specious justifications of torture as an information-gathering tool. Providing an abundance of gruesome detail, O’Mara marshals vast, useful information about the effects of such practices on the brain and the body.Lasana T. Harris, Nature

Does torture actually work? To be sure, it can compel people to confess to crimes and to repudiate their religious and political beliefs. But there is a world of difference between compelling someone to speak and compelling them to tell the truth… Yet the assumption underlying the ticking time bomb defense is that abusive questioning reliably causes people to reveal truthful information that they would otherwise refuse to disclose. Few scholars have scrutinized this assumption—and none with the rigor, depth, and clarity of Shane O’Mara in his excellent book, Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation… Invoking the relevant science, he shows that torture undermines the very neurocognitive mechanisms requisite for recalling veridical information from memory.Richard McNally, Science

A catalog of the scientific evidence of how torture is at best ineffective, usually counterproductive, and always inhumane. In his exhaustive examination of the psychological literature on human (and animal) stress responses, O’Mara combs through numerous studies demonstrating how those stress responses are related to memory retrieval and communication, which are the stated goals of the U.S. military’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’ The author’s main argument—that we could argue forever about the ethics of torture, but the point is moot if the techniques don’t even work to solicit the information sought—is confirmed over and over as he works through experiments on the effects of sleep deprivation, pain, drowning, heating, cooling, sensory deprivation, and more. The experiments range from the well‐known obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram to lesser‐known studies that measured the cognitive effects of changes in core body temperature. O’Mara leaves no stone unturned as he meticulously details the procedures and outcomes of each experiment… Everything you never wanted to know—but probably should—about interrogation techniques and outcomes.Kirkus Reviews

O’Mara has written a sober, convincing argument that torture is practically worthless and morally disgraceful.Publishers Weekly

With accurate and compelling neuroscience, this book will be valuable to individuals outside the neuroscience world—in politics, in the military—who should know the scientific basis of torture as they make and execute policy in this area.Howard Eichenbaum, Boston University

One of the most powerful arguments one can make against a practice is that it is self-defeating, given its own goals. This is a highly unusual book on torture—terrifically interesting.Henry Shue, Merton College, University of Oxford

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist, Psychologist, Writer

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