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Reporting the truth on lie detectors

Update10th November 2010

Department for Work and Pensions drops voice risk analysis lie detector. More here.


11th March 2010

Professor Francisco Lacerda meets MPs in the House of Commons to discuss how the libel laws are damaging science abroad as well as in the UK.  

Professor Lacerda addresses MPs

Francisco Lacerda, Professor of Linguistics at Stockholm University, and Anders Eriksson, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Gothenburg, co-authored a review article on lie detectors published in the International Journal of Speech Language and the Law in 2007. The article examined the past 50 years of lie detector research and concluded that there is no scientific evidence to show they actually work.

Lawyers representing Nemesysco Limited, an Israeli manufacturer of lie detectors, contacted the journal and demanded the article be removed. The journal, which is published by the British company Equinox, complied.

Nemesysco's lawyers warned Lacerda and Eriksson that they would be sued for defamation should they attempt to publish the article elsewhere.

"We don't know where this may end," said Lacerda1. "At the same time, it is my responsibility as a researcher to share my findings. The company has not put forward any counter arguments, but has chosen to simply try to silence us."

Despite Nemesysco's threats, Lacerda continues to speak out against the company at conferences and on his blog2, where he has detailed the fight.

Other researchers are not so bold. When the Guardian3 reported on the validity of Nemesysco's product, they had to grant an expert anonymity to use his statement:

"Study after study shows low validity, and chance level for reliability. But people won't listen. They don't try them in controlled trials; they make a public announcement they're using it, then feel happy they've got a 30% fall in claims. It's called the 'bogus pipeline effect'. People are frightened [of the threat]."

The technology described in Lacerda and Eriksson's article is being used by the Department of Work and Pensions to identify benefit cheats.

The Times  Libel laws silenced me, says Francisco Lacerda, critic of lie detector system

The Daily Telegraph  English libel laws threatening freedom of speech, says Swedish scientist

Nature Blog  Voice analysis, British libel reform, and academic freedom