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Lie Detector Company Threatens Critical Scientists With Suit 367

Posted by timothy
from the slapp-ing-them-around dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Swedish newspaper DN reports that the Israeli company Nemesysco has sent letters to researchers at the University of Stockholm, threatening legal action if they do not stop publishing findings (Google translation). An article called 'Charlatanry in forensic speech science: A problem to be taken seriously' was pulled by the publisher after threats of a libel lawsuit." Online translations can be a little wonky; if your Swedish is as bad as mine, this English-language article describes the situation well.
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Lie Detector Company Threatens Critical Scientists With Suit

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  • A Simple Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:26PM (#26658771)

    Forget the lawsuits. Ask the researchers if they'd be willing to be connected to the lie detectors and to then testify that their research and conclusions were made in good faith.

    If the detectors indicate a lie, the situation doesn't really change. But if the detectors do not indicate a lie, the manufacturer is pretty well cornered.

  • by Cathoderoytube (1088737) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:30PM (#26658817)
    It's apparently fairly easy to fool a lie detector, and it's gotten to the point now where lie detector tests can't be submitted as evidence in court because they're so unreliable. Mind you, they still have a use on Maury to determine who's been cheating on who. That's always entertaining.
  • by Silentknyght (1042778) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:35PM (#26658919)
    truth. From TFA:

    "It was hardly their intention. But since the article was withdrawn, I have received lots of mail and requests for copies of the article. The article would not have been read to this extent if the company had simply ignored it in silence," says Francisco Lacerda to the Dagens Nyheter.

    I also find it funny, and sad, that a Swedish entity caved so easily to a legal threat from outside the country (and from outside the country's legal system).

  • Re:How it works... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by powerlord (28156) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:39PM (#26658961) Journal

    Nemesysco's Poly-Layered Voice Analysis measures 18 parameters of speech in real-time for interrogators at police, military and secret-services agencies. Its accuracy as a lie detector has proven to be less important than its ability to more quickly pinpoint for interrogators where there are problems in a subject's story. Officers then can zero in much more quickly with their traditional interrogation techniques.

    The software measures voice for a variety of parameters including deception, excitement, stress, mental effort, concentration, hesitation, anger, love and lust. It works prerecorded, over the phone and live, the company said. V Entertainment recommends it for screening phone calls, checking the truthfulness of people with whom you deal or gauging romantic interest.

    The display can show each measured parameter in a separate window, with real-time traces of instantaneous measurements while flashing the overall for each parameter, such as "false probable," "high stress" and "SOS." Ultimately, the company plans to offer versions of its detectors for cell phones, dating services, teaching aids, toys and games.

    Interesting. I wonder how it measures up to method acting. ... and politicians.

    I can imagine someone taking a politicians speech and running it through this sort of analysis, especially since it can use recorded audio.

    Heck, start by computing a baseline and run through recordings of previous Presidents, working your way toward the current administration.

    I expect it would make for a very interesting paper (and I expect a footnote, you can contact me for proper attribution. No grant money kickback necessary, but if you need a data-cruncher, I'd be happy to help. :) )

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:43PM (#26659021) Journal
    Lie detectors don't really detect lies. This girl I know has accused me of stalking her again and again after I asked her out; somebody told her he saw me following her around for 2 days afterwards, and she bought into it. She's taken it so seriously, she actually believes her own bullshit, straight through. Put us both on any sort of polygraph or other 'lie detector' and it'll read normal, for two conflicting stories.
  • by gzipped_tar (1151931) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:43PM (#26659027) Journal
    I guess that's because English and Swedish share a lot of common roots... both are languages of Germanic peoples... Anyway it's my guess that falls within the category of "folk linguistics" :-)
  • Re:Abstract... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by novakyu (636495) <novakyu@member.fsf.org> on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:44PM (#26659037) Homepage

    I think the authors are in part responsible for the manufacturer's response. Words like "charlatanry" doesn't really belong in a scientific paper.

    If the authors simply published their findings, that these machines do not work better compared to random guessing, and let the results stand for themselves, then regardless of how much the manufacturer disliked and disagreed with the researchers' findings, he would have had no grounds for a libel suit (and the journal/publisher would have seen that right away).

    Scientists shouldn't let their moral judgment and scientific work mix.

  • by dk90406 (797452) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:46PM (#26659087)
    You are thinking about the normal sweat and heart rate measuring detectors. The article is about voice stress analysis detectors.
    Insurance companies are using your voice over the phone, to test if your are lying. Strangely the companies claim that most of their customers are.
    Go figure...
  • by scotts13 (1371443) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:46PM (#26659091)
    Ever take a lie detector test? Years back, a prospective employer sent me for one. Unlike most people, I actually read the release they asked me to sign, and discovered: 1. I'd be giving up the right to challenge the results of the test, by any manner, and 2. The testing agency reserved the right to sell the results of the test, good or bad, to ANYONE, in perpetuity. Does this sound ethical, or as though they trust their own test? I told them to stuff the test, and the job. The next day, I was called about the position, and explained I could not, in conscience, acquiesce to the polygraph test. They said, "Oh, don't worry about that, we get it if we can, but it doesn't mean anything. Welcome aboard!"
  • Re:A Simple Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:48PM (#26659103)

    Keep in mind that the company is not merely disputing the results of the research. They are claiming libel, which requires maliciousness or deception on the part of the researchers.

  • by ender8282 (1233032) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:58PM (#26659259)
    Don't know the law in the EU but in the US it looks like making a statement in good faith or making a true statement are both defenses. This means that if the scientist has done a reasonable amount of research and believes that the machine is bogus then he will pass the test and wouldn't be held liable for libel.
  • by jgtg32a (1173373) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @06:11PM (#26659439)
    It may not go very well for the Scientists.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libel_tourism [wikipedia.org]
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @06:46PM (#26659831) Homepage

    Polygraphs, voice stress analyzers, coin flips, sticking your hand in the statue's mouth and Scientology's "E-Meters" all share the same validity in catching lies -- basically none. It's all pretend "science" with cool moving needles and wires, but you might as well be watching a seismograph for all the good it does you. It simply gives government agencies and insurance companies an excuse to call you a liar. "Hey, don't look at me, the MACHINE says you're lying..."

    Oh, all those things (including the seismograph) can have quite a bit of validity at catching lies... if the person being interrogated believes they are valid lie-catchers. As a psychological tool in the hands of an interrogator skilled in the 'old fashioned' method of detecting lies, they can be quite handy.

    That's about the only use a polygraph has. Enough people don't know what crocks they are that they may be convinced that their lies have been or will be discovered by the machine and spill the truth. I've even heard of a detective faking it by using a non-functional box, with a concealed switch that made red and green lights come on. He made it flash red when he thought the suspect was lying, and well he was right enough that the suspect panicked and confessed.

    Of course, if an empty box and a hand switch work equally well as the 'real thing', that kinda defeats the need for polygraph vendors and their expensive toys. Thus this kind of lawsuit.

  • quick! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crazybit (918023) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @06:49PM (#26659883)
    send this to Mythbusters, i'll like to see that company tying to sue them.
  • by thetorpedodog (750359) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @07:07PM (#26660105) Homepage

    But in the UK, if I'm not mistaken, the burden of proof lies on the accused [nybooks.com]â"that is to say, you have to prove that you're not being libelous (search the page for "burden of proof"). Asinine? Absolutely.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Thursday January 29, 2009 @08:35PM (#26661015)

    Truth is an absolute defense to libel.

    Not everywhere. And you seem to be under the impression that people won't sue you if you're telling the truth. That simply doesn't matter: the more correct your accusations, the more money and lawyers they will throw at you. You may well be right ... but in the end, if what you are saying is sufficiently threatening to a litigious corporation, you'll be dead right.

    This is pretty bad, but nowhere near as bad as Taser Corporation intimidating forensic scientists and coroners to change their findings, if it so happens that a Taser kills someone. I mean, it's one thing if you shoot someone with a gun: no firearm manufacturer claims that its products are non-lethal. Taser does make that claim, and even though it is often false, they're using their lawyers to keep up the pretense.

    Evil is as evil does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 30, 2009 @02:13AM (#26662989)

    Lie detectors are bogus...I didn't RTFA, and I'm sure they touched on more than the traditional polygraph(there are countless). But the polygraph is the most widely employed to my knowledge......

    I took a job with "Loomis"(the armored car you see at banks, and a contractor to the federal reserve), I suppose they wanted to make sure a career criminal wasn't in the back of the truck with 100-500k of cash. Or the fed-truck each morning with 1-5mil of cash?

    Soooo....they had a polygraph test.

    Now I am not a career criminal, but I WAS in need a job...I was informed I would be subjected to a polygraph, and I was free to decline, but I would be ineligible for the job if I did so. So....google to the rescue!

    My first search of "how to beat a polygraph" turned up http://antipolygraph.org/ [antipolygraph.org], and sure enough, after reading it I felt confident.

    Few days later, I was called and told it was time to come and take my test. I followed the instructions and passed with flying colors. Countermeasures [the site recommended] that I employed were:

    1. I counted my breaths(one one thousand...two one thousand..) to a count of 4 for each breath.

    2. On control questions("are the lights on in this room?") I:
    a)increased my breathing from 4 seconds to 2
    seconds
    b)flexed facial muscles
    c)feigned panic in my mind
    d)applied painful pressure to my tongue with my teeth
    (aka: all the tested variables get peaked: breathing rate, blood pressure, perspiration)

    3. On obvious-intentional-lie questions("Do you agree I am 15 feet tall?") I used the steps listed above to give produce a control question response.

    4. On non-obvious-intentional-lie questions("You have never been dishonest about money, have you?") I used the steps from above to produce a control question response.

    5. On REAL questions("Have you done ?") I simply lied and said no...

    summary: since your baseline response is so low(4 second breaths, etc), and your expected-lie response is so high(2 breaths, blood pressure up, perspiration), my real lies flew well under the radar of my expected responses for a lie.

    epilogue: i work at a job i have no business working at, i touch millions of [your] dollars every day, and constantly daydream about misappropriating it.

    posting as AC, it's doubtful they care, i've never taken a dime. but nonetheless.

  • by wild_berry (448019) * on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:50AM (#26664093) Journal

    I think he's saying that they can't reliably be detected. I heard that there's a whole profession of people whose job concerns conveying emotion and filling roles in entirely made-up sequences of events. They're called 'actors'.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:53PM (#26672579)

    no firearm manufacturer claims that its products are non-lethal. Taser does make that claim, and even though it is often false, they're using their lawyers to keep up the pretense.

    Hence the new term "less lethal", because given the right conditions, even pepper spray can be lethal. (severe asthma, for instance)

    Which is still irrational ("slightly pregnant", etc.) because you can't be "less lethal." You can be "less frequently lethal", I suppose, which amounts to a game of Russian Roulette. That is pretty much what the widespread use of Tasers has become, since you can't know an individual's physical condition before you fire the thing at him. Pepper spray is generally used as a defensive weapon (if you have asthma and you try to rob someone and get sprayed, well, you got what you deserved.) Tasers are used by cops in an offensive capacity, often as a substitute for real police work.

    Taser Corporation just doesn't want to admit that its weapons can (and do) kill. But they go way beyond a potential false-advertising charge to intimidation of public officials. That's just wrong, and frankly even if I thought I could use a Taser I'd never give that third-rate lawyer-happy outfit a penny.

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