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Editorial: Latter-Day Lie Detectors Have Yet To Prove Their Worth

Publication Date: 
October 04, 2008
New Scientist

Professor Henry T. "Hank" Greely is referenced in a New Scientist editorial about the usefulness of fMRI lie detection in the courtroom:

We don't know the answer because those studies that have been done on fMRI and deception have not yet been replicated. More research - and regulation - are badly needed. Initiatives such as the MacArthur Foundation's Law and Neuroscience Project, which aims to establish criteria for reliable lie-detection technologies, and the proposal by Hank Greely of Stanford University for a regulatory scheme to license their commercial use, will be crucial.

Whether the technology is eventually deemed reliable enough for the courts will ultimately be decided by the judges. Let's hope they are wise enough not to be seduced by a machine that claims to determine truthfulness at the flick of a switch.

They should also be sceptical of the growing tendency to try to reduce all human traits and behaviours to the level of brain activity. Often they do not map that easily. People engaged in demanding tasks have a tendency to show activity in a small region of the lateral frontal cortex, for example, but it is a far cry from there to declaring a neural signature for intelligence (see "Outer limits of the brain"). Moreover, understanding the brain is not the same as understanding the mind: some researchers suggest that thoughts cannot properly be seen as purely "internal", but make sense only with reference to the thinker's external world (see "Mindfields: The marvellous mystery of mind").