Measuring depravity

bw_frustrated.jpgDepravity is a concept often used in criminal trials when making decisions on the seriousness or gravity of a particular crime. The depravity scale is a project to develop a measure of depravity, and is asking members of the public to help develop it.

It is the brainchild of forensic psychiatrist Dr Michael Welner who wants the concept of depravity to be more rigorous and psychometrically sound, so it can be measured reliably.

The depravity scale website asks members of the public to rank specific scenarios for how depraved they are, to get an estimation of how people understand and use the concept of depravity.

The scale has not been without controversy, however, with some professionals questioning whether psychiatry should become involved in making moral decisions.

Forensic psychiatry is particularly interesting in this regard, as it attempts to distinguish ‘bad’ from ‘mad’.

This project is also interesting in light of the history of psychiatry and madness. The idea that mental illness is the result of the breakdown of the mechanisms of mind and brain is a relatively new idea, and traditionally mental illness was seen as a moral failing.

Psychiatry (or mad-doctoring as it was known then) brought madness into the medical realm, where previously it was the domain of the church. Just like today, there were accusations that doctors were interfering in moral issues.

Link to The Depravity Scale website.
Link to story on the project from Psychiatric News.
Link to NY Daily News story on the scale.

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