1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · News

Bright Ideas turn to crime



The Genomics Forum is delighted to welcome Mairi Levitt as a Bright Ideas Fellow.


Mairi Levitt is a senior lecturer in the Department of Politics Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University where she works on empirical bioethics.

She joins the Forum as a Bright Ideas Fellow until 11 November 2011.

With a particular research interest in the practical and policy implications of genetic research and technologies, Mairi’s initial work on crime was a Cesagen funded project entitled ‘Criminal Genes and Public Policy’. Some professionals rightly predicted that, whether or not research findings were robust, defence teams would try to use genetic information in court if they felt it would help their clients.

This led Mairi to consider whether an increasing emphasis on genetic influences on health and behaviour, both in research and the media, is mirrored in public perceptions of the role of nature and nurture in behaviour and in the way people of different ages construct narratives about their own self-formation.

With further support from Cesagen in 2010 she undertook a pilot study ‘Perceptions of Nature and Nurture’ which involved collecting data from around 80 people on this topic, using interviews and open-ended questionnaires.

Mairi will be focussing on this research while at the Forum. “I studied at Edinburgh University, first in New College and then in the Sociology Department, so it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to return.” commented Mairi.

“During my time here I will be looking at people’s characterisation of the influence of nature and nurture in their own lives, and in their explanations for the behaviour of children and adults. In my pilot study respondents were asked to consider the assigning of responsibility in cases where there were potentially mitigating environmental or genetic factors. I will be comparing their perspectives with philosophical and legal literature on responsibility for criminal offences.

“It has already been suggested that the criminal law is lagging behind developments in genetics and neuroscience but public understandings will be critical to the acceptance of any changes to legal policy and practice in this area. It is particularly useful to be working on this topic in Edinburgh given the distinctiveness of the criminal justice system in Scotland, including the treatment of young offenders; the Forum’s links to researchers and policy makers in this area and the resources of the National Library of Scotland.”

Visit Mairi Levitt’s profile page for more on her work.


Mairi Levitt