News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Man vs. Machine: The True Story of an Ex-Cop’s War on Lie Detectors

By Drake Bennett | Bloomberg Business | August 4, 2015

There was something odd, Doug Williams recalls, about the clean-cut young man who came to see him on Feb. 21, 2013. When Brian Luley had called two weeks earlier, he’d introduced himself as a deputy sheriff in Virginia applying for a job with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. To get the job, Luley needed to pass a polygraph test, and there were “a couple of reasons” he thought that might be a problem.

“I will get you ready,” Williams had promised. A former police detective and a man congenitally unencumbered by doubt, he claimed he’d already helped thousands of people beat the polygraph. In pictures on his website, polygraph.com, the goateed 67-year-old sat at a desk in a suit with his hands clasped, his silver hair slicked back from a tanned and furrowed brow. “Nervous or not, lying or not, no matter what,” he assured his clients, they would pass. The site had a manual and an instructional DVD for purchase, but if you really wanted to be sure, Williams would teach you one-on-one. Luley wanted to be sure.

Many of the people who sought out Williams over the years had secrets: marital indiscretions or professional lapses, drug busts or sex crimes. Williams never asked for details—those weren’t his concern. He has no affection for crooked cops or sexual predators, but what he hates above all else is the polygraph machine, an “insidious Orwellian instrument of torture,” as he calls it, that sows fear and mistrust, ruining careers by tarring truthful people as liars. “It is no more accurate than the toss of a coin,” he likes to say. When he’s feeling less generous, he’ll say a coin works better.  Continue reading »

Will Lie Detectors Ever Get Their Day in Court Again?

By Matt Stroud | Bloomberg | February 2, 2015

This article features interview with CLBB Co-Director Judith Edersheim, JD, MD. Dr. Edersheim’s 2014 paper, “A Polygraph Primer: What Litigators Need to Know,” written with Ekaterina Pivovarova, Justin Baker and Bruce Price, about the accuracy of the polygraph test, is cited.

By the beginning of February 1935, defense and prosecution attorneys in the criminal trial of Tony Grignano and Cecil Loniello were at a crossroads. The two men stood accused of attempting to kill a sheriff in Portage, Wis., and all of the evidence was circumstantial—the word of the sheriff against the word of the defendants. But Judge Clayton F. Van Pelt thought he could change that.

The judge had heard about the work of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory at Northwestern University’s School of Law, where Professor Leonarde Keeler had spent more than a decade tinkering with a portable device to measure the responses of skin and blood pressure during questioning. In the hands of a trained expert, Keeler said, the device could help identify whether someone was telling the truth. While the Keeler Polygraph had been a showpiece at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, it had never been used in a criminal trial. On Feb. 2, 1935—exactly 80 years ago—Keeler used his polygraph test and determined that Grignano and Loniello were likely lying. The professor and his machine ended up persuading the jury. Continue reading »

The Other Polygraph

By Virginia Hughes | National Geographic Phenomena: Only Human | September 30, 2014

You’ve no doubt heard about the polygraph and its use as a lie detector. The homely box records physiological changes — such as heart rate and electrical skin conductance — that are indirect signatures of emotion. Because these biomarkers tend to change when people tell lies, criminal investigators have long used the polygraph as a crude tool for detecting deception.

But there’s a huge problem with the polygraph: it’s all-too-frequently wrong. Truth-tellers may show a strong physiological response to being questioned if they’re nervous or fearful, which they often are — particularly if the target of a hostile interrogation.

“You end up with a lot of false positives,” says John Meixner, a law clerk to Chief Judge Gerald Rosen of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The traditional polygraph suffers not only from false positives, but missed positives: With a bit of training, liars can pass the test by intentionally turning down their emotions. Continue reading »

A Polygraph Primer: What Litigators Need to Know

By Ekaterina Pivovarova, PhD, Judith Edersheim, JD, MD, Justin Baker, MD, PhD, Bruce Price, MD | The Jury Expert | May 2014

The polygraph, an instrument designed to identify deception, first entered the American courtroom more than 90 years ago. In Frye v. United States (1923), the D.C. Circuit Court excluded expert testimony about the findings from a polygraph. The court noted that the “systolic blood pressure deception test, ” the polygraph, had “not yet gained such standing and scientific recognition among physiological and psychological authorities as would justify the courts in admitting expert testimony.…”

Since then, the polygraph and its modern incarnations have continued to incite legal controversy and debate. The public, press and fact finders are no less fascinated with the polygraph now than they were in the beginning of the twentieth century (Keeler, 1930; Myers, Latter, & Abdolahhi-Arena, 2006). Overwhelmingly, courts have banned results of polygraph testing in criminal proceedings (United States v. Scheffer, 1998). The reasoning for this has largely centered on lack of general acceptance in the scientific community and concerns about prejudicial impact of the findings on the jury (Myers et al., 2006). Nevertheless, the polygraph continues to be widely used by law enforcement, in employment screenings, and for specific types of forensic assessments, such as sexual offender evaluations (Grubin, 2010). Accordingly, litigators, corporate counsel, and trial consultants need to have a current understanding of the scientific underpinnings of the polygraph, the improvements to the instrument throughout the decades, and the ongoing controversies regarding the interpretation of results.

Read the full article here.