Thursday, February 02, 2006

Would I Lie to You?

An engaging series of articles on the ethics of neuro-deception-detection appeared in the American Journal of Bioethics last year. The lead article, by Wolpe et al., argued that,

"Premature commercialization will bias and stifle the extensive basic research that still remains to be done, damage the long-term applied potential of these powerful techniques, and lead to their misuse before they are ready to serve the needs of society."
--Wolpe et al. (2005), p. 47

Wolpe PR, Foster KR, Langleben DD.
Emerging neurotechnologies for lie-detection: promises and perils.
Am J Bioeth. 2005 Spring;5(2):39-49.

These authors went on to chastise those who are trying to profit from this venture before the methods are scientifically proven. Particularly taken to task was Lawrence Farwell and his patented "brain fingerprinting" technology, which uses EEG recordings instead of fMRI. The technique is based on the "oddball" P300, an ERP component that is elicited by "guilty knowledge" probe stimuli scattered among irrelevant items. Farwell and Donchin first presented the results at the 1986 meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and later published a paper in 1991. Dr. Emanuel Donchin, P300 guru, states that the science behind the method is not the problem.

Instead, the specific questions posed to the suspect are problematic. [Donchin] argues that "the success of the technique depends on the construction of the stimuli and there is no analytic, systematic way of constructing the question. It depends on the subjectivity of the person. It’s an art, not a science."

taken from
Brain Fingerprinting: Picture-perfect crimes
By Tami Abdollah

Farwell's Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, Inc. makes rather exaggerated claims for applications in counterterrorism, criminal justice, medicine, advertising, etc.

J. Peter Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
was actually the first to publish a journal article on lie dection and P300. He and his colleagues did a recent study on how to beat the P300 guilty knowledge test. The countermeasures are similar to those described for beating a polygraph test: ask the subjects to generate large covert responses to irrelevant stimuli (or to the "control" questions on a polygraph).

NOW back to the ethics article by Wolpe, Foster, & Langleben on the perils of premature adoption. Imagine The Neurocritic's surprise with the discovery that Dr. Langleben is on the Science Board for a company called No Lie MRI, Inc., and that he holds a patent for the lie detection fMRI technology!

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At February 02, 2006 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree it is supring that Langleben warned against the the perils of premature adoption while being on the Science Board for No Lie MRI, Inc. (and holding the patent for fMRI lie-detection software).

But why is it disturbing to the Neurocritic? One can conceive of a number of reasons for Langleben's apparently contradictory behavior:

1. He really believes that commericalization of lie-detection software will hurt our understanding of the science of fMRI lie-detection, and he wants to be on the board of No Lie MRI to minimize this (the principle here is that if he's not on the board, someone else will be, and he can at least have his ethical concerns aired).

2. He hypocritically warns against premature commericalization to allow his company to have at least an initial monopoly.


At February 03, 2006 1:19 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

The Neurocritic is a cynic and reacted in mock horror to the apparent hypocrisy. But Red Diaper Baby raises a good point, that the motives for joining "No Lie MRI" may be altruistic.

At February 03, 2006 6:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neurocritic, why don't you ask Langleben to explain the apparent hypocrisy. His email at Penn is

You could also write or call No Lie MRI as their website has full contact information.

I am guessing that the truth is that (a) he genuinely worries that commercialization will stunt scientific explorations, and (b) he doesn't want to miss out on the adventure of commercialization, given that if he doesn't get involved in it, others will


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