Legal threat for criticising neurobabble ‘lie detector’

Francisco Lacerda is a professor of phonetics and the author of an academic article criticising the use of the unproven voice analysis ‘life detector’ technology in the legal system. He highlighted “discrepancies between the claims the producers and vendors make and what their products are capable of delivering” and as a result, is now being threatened with a libel suit by a company that makes these devices.

The academic journal received similar threats and, rather disappointingly, has now taken the article offline.

But have no fear, a copy was grabbed from the International Journal of Speech Language and the Law before it disappeared and is now available online for all to read.

The article makes for interesting reading, as it looks at the claims and scientific basis of both specific products and the whole project of using voice stress for ‘detecting’ lies.

The company concerned are Nemesysco, who manufacture devices that supposedly detect lies by analysing speech patterns, despite the fact that there is no conclusive peer-reviewed evidence that the devices reliably detect untruths.

The company claim that their products works like this:

The technology detects minute, involuntary changes in the voice reflective of various types of brain activity. By utilizing a wide range spectrum analysis to detect minute changes in the speech waveform, LVA detects anomalies in brain activity and classifies them in terms of stress, excitement, deception, and varying emotional states, accordingly. This way, LVA detects what we call ‘brain activity traces,’ using the voice as a medium. The information that is gathered is then processed and analyzed to reveal the speaker’s current state of mind.

If that made no sense to you, read it again. It won’t make any more sense but it does get funnier.

Rather than presenting data showing that their devices work, the company is resorting to legal action to silence their critics.

UPDATE: Grabbed from the comments:

The article is quite unusual for a scientific article. For example, it has a section titled “who is Mr. Liberman?” addressing a private person and claiming that he is a charlatan based on a visit by a friend made to a private company.

Link to report of legal threat from Stockholm University.
Link to copy of pulled article.

5 Comments

  1. Posted January 31, 2009 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    It’s too bad they can put a chill on a journal like that. Good thing the internet gets around it.

  2. joseph lehmann
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    When reading the article and visiting the company site, one can wonder what might be the full story.
    The article is quite unusual for a scientific article. For example, it has a section titled “who is Mr. Liberman?” addressing a private person and claiming that he is a charlatan based on a visit by a friend made to a private company.
    On the other hand, no matter what we believe, one can not just wave off claims for scientific research for detecting emotions. In fact, neuroscience and artificial intelligence aim to much more than that.
    It might be interesting to have the arguments of both sides rather than such a one sided story. One may wonder why the publishers pulled out the article. This happened in the UK.

  3. harryb
    Posted February 3, 2009 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    Joesph – the ‘Who is Mr Liberman’ section is unusual, but not as bad as you represent it: the visit to the Nemesysco office was not made by a friend, but by a Swedish journalist who does not appear to be affiliated with the authors. The account of that visit was published in a Swedish newspaper.
    The ‘friend’ who was consulted was an ‘active speech science researcher’ in Israel who simply said that he did not know Mr Liberman.
    Given that the thesis of the article is that layered voice analysis is entirely fraudulent, it’s not so unreasonable to point out that its developer has no formal training in speech analysis and indeed holds no academic degree.

  4. Posted March 17, 2009 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    It might be of interest that Nemesysco have released a response to the controversy:
    see here

  5. Posted April 7, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    First Post: New here, and am very impressed with this site. Anyway, concerning the above post:
    Will Someone please tell me how any civil court judge could ever let this case go to trial. Am I correct in reading that this man is being sued for writing an opinion/research piece criticizing a product. Ummm isn’t that free speech, and don’t we do it all the time with customer evaluations and product reviews. Good thing is, since its a public (famous) plaintiff, the burden of proof should fall on them to disprove the libel or slander claims…the opposite is true if its two private citizens going at it.
    It just scares me that this gentleman might lose a lawsuit for doing what we all have the right to do. If he loses, what’s next, abortion clinics suing protesters because it is hurting business?
    Aloha,
    Evil Wes


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