Deception in the news

I’ve been lax posting on the blogs recently, I know (real life interferes with blogging). Consider this a catch-up post with some of the deception-related issues hitting the news stands over the last few weeks.

Polygraphing sex offenders gains momentum in the UK: A new pilot scheme to polygraph test sex offenders to see if they “are a risk to the public or are breaking the terms of their release from jail”, according to The Times (20 Sept 2008).

Brain fingerprinting in the news again: Brain test could be next polygraph (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 14 Sept):

A Seattle scientist who has developed an electronic brain test that he says could improve our ability to force criminals to reveal themselves, identify potential terrorists and free those wrongly convicted may have finally broken through the bureaucratic barriers that he believes have served to stifle adoption of the pioneering technique.

“There seems to be a renewed surge of interest in this by the intelligence agencies and the military,” said Larry Farwell, neuroscientist and founder of Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories based at the Seattle Science Foundation.

Not-brain-fingerprinting deception detection brain scan procedure isn’t scientific, according to a well-qualified panel (The Hindu, 8 Sept). India’s Directorate of Forensic Sciences chooses not to accept the panel’s findings:

The Directorate of Forensic Sciences, which comes under the Union Ministry of Home, will not accept the findings of the six-member expert committee that looked into brain mapping and its variant “brain electrical oscillation signature (BEOS) profiling” on the ground that the committee has been dissolved.

The six-member technical peer review committee, headed by National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) Director D. Nagaraja, started work in May 2007. The panel had concluded that the two procedures were unscientific and had recommended against their use as evidence in court or as an investigative tool.

  • See also: more on “BEOS profiling” in The Times of India (21 July) which claims that “This brain test maps the truth”.

Perhaps the answer can be found with infrared light? New Scientist (22 Sept) reports on a patent application to develop a new type of brain scanning lie detection technology:

Scott Bunce, at Drexel University’s College of Medicine in Philadelphia, thinks a better solution [to the problem of detecting lies] is to send near-infrared light through the scalp and skull into the brain and see how much is reflected back. And he has designed a special headband that does just that. The amount of reflected light is dependent on the levels of oxygen in the blood, which in turn depends on how active the brain is at that point.

This, he says, gives a detailed picture of real-time activity within the brain that can be used to determine whether the subject is lying. The technique is both cheaper and easier to apply than fMRI and gives a higher resolution than an EEG. …Of course, nobody knows whether brain activity can reliably be decoded to reveal deception, but that’s another question.

Leave a Reply