Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Penis Phrenology and Darren Sharper

Right on the heels of my previous post on the technofallacy of the criminal justice system comes a story of our justice system relying on an even less reliable form of technology: Plethysmography, or as it should probably be known, penis phrenology.

While plethysmography is something so obviously insane it should have gone out of type years ago (or never been introduced in the first place), it's in the news in connection with the plea deal agreed to by Darren Sharper, the former NFL player who was on trial in four separate states for a years-long string of drugging and raping multiple people.

The entire concept of plethysmography is explained in great detail in this article, but for the most part it's a combination of old school phrenology and a blood pressure machine. But that goes on your penis. Phrenology, of course, was the "scientific" study of human behavior which held we could understand someone's thoughts, motivations, and life course by examining the shape of their head. Here's a handy chart if you'd like to check yourself:

I think phrenology is dumb, but then I have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter, so what do I know?

Plethysmography is a combination of what is basically modern phrenology (using this technology we can tell what you're sexually excited by, which we then assume to tell us something about your deep-seated desires) combined with Clockwork Orange-style attempts at re-wiring someone's thoughts and desires (in fact, the method was first used to "cure" homosexuality). But lest you think it not scientific, look at how complex this chart is. Surely science is going on here!

Pictured: Science!…probably
Thankfully plethysmography of this kind if not commonly employed, but the fact that it's employed anywhere is a horrible indictment of our collective barbarity. Hopefully it won't be long before it goes the way of the polygraph before it, kicked out of the courtroom for its completely unscientific and unreliable nature, but for now, if convicted of a crime in the right state, you too could find yourself being forced to watch violent child pornography while electrodes attached to a penis monitor shock you. In the year 2015.

It's funny -- as someone who researches our criminal justice system for a living, I often feel like I've seen so many horrible things, things which have no business in the dark ages yet somehow persist in current day America, that I feel like nothing can surprise or disgust me anymore. And yet somehow I keep getting proven depressingly wrong about that...

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