Letter to the Editor
More on Depravity Scale
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 22 page 25-25

Dr. Emanuel Tanay’s rebuking letter in the September 21 issue toward the Depravity Scale research effort represents that of many, but so does my perspective that psychiatry, including forensic psychiatry, is expected to provide a standardized understanding about behavior—even that which horrifies us. The Depravity Scale is not a psychiatric instrument; it is, however, especially inspired by psychiatric understanding in its development.

Those who elect to put their head in the sand needn’t participate in research that endeavors to refine how the court uses words like "heinous," "atrocious," and "cruel." Closer examination, however, demonstrates that the standardization effort of the Depravity Scale focuses on precisely the evidence that enables psychiatrists and other professionals to educate the jury in the first place. Without such rigor attached to terminology already being used, these words will continue to be distorted by those who overidentify with the victim and obscured by those who overidentify with the offender. The Depravity Scale will reduce the role of theater in the presentation of such pivotal points of evidence.

Decisions of morality are indeed best left to the jury; those jurors who invoke morality will not use evidence-based instruments such as the Depravity Scale. For those interested in fairness that does not overly weigh their own prejudices in deciding greater or lesser punishment, the Depravity Scale will assist. It will force courts to at least consider available psychiatric, pathological, and criminalistic evidence that forensics has the potential to reveal, now more than ever.

Dr. Welner is the inventor of the Depravity Scale.

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