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 »

WATCH – “Does Brain-Based Lie Detection Belong in American Courtrooms?”

Click to view event poster.

Click to view event poster.

As neuroimaging and other technologies advance, will traditionally-excluded tests of veracity (or lack thereof) find a place in American courtrooms? What is the state of our neuroscience and understanding of brain-based lie detection techniques?

Are these advances ready for “prime time,” or should we proceed with caution? What are the implications of existing research for the legal system and our moral assumptions about lying?

On Tuesday, April 14, leaders in neuroethics, forensic psychology, and neurolaw discussed the state of the science and the implications of neuroscientific advances for ethics and law. Can neuroscientific methods accurately distinguish truth-telling from ling? Are there limitations in our science? If so, can these limitations be addressed sufficiently to meet rules of evidence? If not, will these tests have any role in the courtroom? What are the legal and ethical implications of including or excluding neuroscientific evidence of lying?

This seminar took place from 4:30-6:00pm on Tuesday, April 14 at Harvard Medical School.

Panelists:

giordano 150x150James Giordano, PhD is Chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program at the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics and is Co-direector of the O’Neill-Pellegrino Program in Brain Science and Global Health Law and policy. He is also a professor in the Department of Neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC.

 

pivovarova_150x1501-150x134Ekaterina (Kate) Pivovarova, PhD is a Researcher and Assistant Professor in the Law and Psychiatry Division at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Department of Psychiatry. She is also a licensed Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Dr. Pivovarova was the 2013-2014 CLBB Forensic Psychology Research Fellow.

 

shen 150x150Francis X. Shen, PhD, JD is a McKnight Landgrant Professor and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, where he directs the Shen Neurolaw Lab. He also serves as Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, and is currently a visiting scholar at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

 

This event, hosted by the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics, was co-sponsored by CLBB, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, HLS; Institute for the Neurosciences, BWH; the Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, Harvard University; Center for Brain Science, Harvard University; and the Department of Neurobiology, HMS. Funding is provided by the Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, Harvard University and The Harvard Brain Initiative Collaborative Seed Grant Program. 

Watch video of the entire “Brain-Based Lie Detection” event below, or explore past events on pain, memory, free will, and criminal responsibility, on CLBB’s Vimeo channel.

The Dark Side of Interrogation

By Drake Bennett | Bloomberg | February 12, 2015

In August 2003, six months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and four months into the bloody insurgency that followed, Steve Kleinman, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, arrived in the country as part of a special operations task force based out of Baghdad International Airport. A lean man with an angular face and a faintly Californian cadence, Kleinman had been an intelligence officer for almost two decades. He had questioned high-level prisoners of war during the 1989 invasion of Panama and Iraqi generals during Operation Desert Storm, and he’d run the Air Force Combat Interrogation Course. At the Baghdad airport, however, he witnessed techniques he hadn’t seen in the field. In one of the plywood-walled interrogation rooms he saw a detainee slapped in the face each time he answered a question. Outside another room was a taped-up sheet of paper with the words “1 hour sleep, 3 hrs. awake, ½ hr. on knees, ½ sitting down, 1 hr. standing, ½ hr. knees” written on it. At the bottom it read, “Repeat.”

“This was a year before Abu Ghraib. It was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo,” Kleinman says. “Sometimes I got to the point where I had to literally order them to stop. Even then there was surprising blowback. People thought I was coddling terrorists.” Kleinman didn’t think of himself as soft, though, just empirical. In his free time he was an avid consumer of behavioral science research papers, and over the years he’d experimented, in an ad hoc way, with the ideas he found there. 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 Case for Pain Neuroimaging in the Courtroom: Lessons from Deception Detection

Natalie Salmanowicz | The Journal of Law and the Biosciences | 9 January 2015

From an observer’s perspective, pain is a fairly nebulous concept—it is not externally visible, its cause is not obvious, and perceptions of its intensity are mainly subjective. If difficulties in understanding the source and degree of pain are troublesome in contexts requiring social empathy, they are especially problematic in the legal setting. Tort law applies to both acute and chronic pain cases, but the lack of objective measures demands high thresholds of proof. However, recent developments in pain neuroimaging may clarify some of these inherent uncertainties, as studies purport detection of pain on an individual level. In analyzing the scientific and legal barriers of utilizing pain neuroimaging in court, it is prudent to discuss neuroimaging for deception, a topic that has garnered significant controversy due to premature attempts at introduction in the courtroom. Through comparing and contrasting the two applications of neuroimaging to the legal setting, this paper argues that the nature of tort law, the distinct features of pain, and the reduced vulnerability to countermeasures distinguish pain neuroimaging in a promising way. This paper further contends that the mistakes and lessons involving deception detection are essential to consider for pain neuroimaging to have a meaningful future in court.

Read the full paper here.