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Torturing science: Science, interrogational torture, and public policy

  • Shane O’Mara (a1) and John Schiemann (a2)


Contrary to the claims of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that its torture program was scientific, the program was not based on biology or any other science. Instead, the George W. Bush administration veneered the program’s justification with a patina of pseudoscience, ignoring the actual biology of torturing human brains. We reconstruct the Bush administration’s decision-making process to establish that the policy decision to use torture took place in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks without any investigation into its efficacy. We then present the pseudoscientific model of torture sold to the CIA, show why this ad hoc model amounted to pseudoscience, and then catalog what the actual science of torturing human brains—available in 2001—reveals about the practice. We conclude with a discussion of how a process incorporating countervailing evidence might prevent a policy going forward that is contrary to law, ethics, and evidence.


Corresponding author

Correspondence: John Schiemann, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 285 Madison Avenue, Madison, WI07940. E-mail:


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Torturing science: Science, interrogational torture, and public policy

  • Shane O’Mara (a1) and John Schiemann (a2)


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