The New Scientist asks "Why waste money on technology when humans can still do better?" and then offers an answer. Here's part of its response.
IF YOU want to spot a liar, don't bother with a polygraph. They are notoriously unreliable. In a competition to find the world's most inappropriately named technology, the lie detector would be hard to beat.
Yet lie detectors are still relied upon to a frightening extent. Law enforcement agencies in the US, Canada, Israel and elsewhere use them routinely in investigations, even though evidence based on lie detectors is usually inadmissible in court.
Dissatisfaction with traditional polygraphs has prompted the search for more sophisticated techniques to spot the supposed telltale signs of dishonesty - increased heart rate, sweating, nervous tics, averted gaze and so on. The US Department of Homeland Security, for example, is spending millions on asystem to detect "malintent" in airline passengers to weed out potential terrorists.
And yet the assumption that anxiety causes liars to give themselves away is dubious. A 2003 review of the evidence by the US National Academy of Sciences concluded that while lie detectors are significantly better than a toss of a coin, they fall far short of the accuracy required. Little has changed.
Why do we keep using lie detectors? I think part of the reason is that we want that finality--we want certainty to the question--is someone telling the truth? Remember that old game show, To Tell the Truth? We want to know the answer. Most of us don't like ambiguity or uncertainty. We seek out solutions, for the same reasons that we seek out certainty in other areas of our lives. Many of us seek the comfort of religion. We look for patterns in clouds. Many of us carry good luck charms such as rabbits' feet and visit fortune tellers to find out our futures. We cling to the inserts in Chinese fortune cookies and eye the newspaper horoscopes. Most of us wouldn't like a mystery story that ended without a solution. One episode of the tv series M.A.S.H., "The Light That Failed," centered on the characters' frantic search for the solution to a mystery story once they discovered that the last page is missing. In desperation, B.J. finally calls the author to find out "Whodunnit."
When faced with the responsibility of serving on a jury panel, we'd like the same kind of certainty, coupled with scientific credibility, and a magic machine that one could hook up to an individual to detect truth or falsity might seem to give us that. Whether it's a polygraph (the results of which are usually not admissible) or some other magical seeming device (whose accuracy is still not proven) it's probably got wires and a gazinta--it gazinta the wall. It will come with someone in a metaphorical lab coat to explain its meaning. What more could one ask? The law and neuroscientists seem to trying to move in that direction. Well, one could ask, nay demand, for some more actual science to go along with the wires and the gazinta. If someone's life depends on the certainty, the science had better be certain. In spite of the wires and the gazinta.
Sad news from Hollywood. Actor Peter Falk has died at the age of 83. As Lieutenant Columbo, he bested two magicians: The Great Santini, played by the late Jack Cassidy, in "Now You See Him," and Elliot Blake (Anthony Andrews) who poses as a psychic, but is really a magician, in "Columbo Goes To the Guillotine." In that episode, the killer does in a fellow magician who knows too much about him. In both episodes, Columbo learns some magic tricks. More about Columbo at the Ultimate Columbo Site, and about Columbo and the law in Columbo Goes To Law School.
Can you do Magic? A firm in South West London [is] interested in employing a solicitor who is an experienced magician. This may sound a little bizarre, but the firm [has] had the idea of someone doing magic tricks whilst pitching to clients. Is this a wind up? We don't think so - the firm sounded deadly serious. They mentioned possibly hiring someone who had done quite a bit of work on stage as an alternative. If you think you can stand on your head whilst balancing an apple on your chin and juggling three chain saws with your feet, and at the same time do a presentation on recent changes to employment legislation, please get in touch.
According to the recruiter, this ad is genuine. One person who applied, a "psychic lawyer," was told the client really wants an experienced lawyer/magician. More here from Lawyers Weekly.
A successful trial attorney testifies to the power of closing statements. In his short article about dos and don'ts, Mark B. Wilson (not to be confused with magician Mark Wilson) mentions the use of magic imagery.
In one case, my office created an animation for closing argument showing the hands of a magician moving shells around a table. One hand uncovered a shell to reveal the word "Covenant," representing the plaintiff's contention my client agreed to a covenant not to compete in a business agreement. Then, the hands move the shells around and uncover the same shell to reveal the words "No Covenant," representing plaintiff's statement on a tax return that my client did not agree to a covenant not to compete. The shell game was powerful.
I can imagine that it was. It sounds simple and memorable, and therefore, powerful. Effective legal magic.
On the Franklin & Bash episode aired June 23 ("Bro-Bono"), the prosecutor makes a Penn & Teller reference, and in my opinion, not an apt one. ADA Janie Ross, Peter Bash's former girlfriend, who is often assigned to prosecute his cases (are there no other ADAs in that office? how odd) objects to one of the pair's shenanigans in court. As Mr. Franklin flips opens a beer and proceeds to imbibe (in open court), working on a theory of their case in order to try to acquit their client, the judge senses that his courtroom is rapidly becoming a circus.
Mr. Bash: "We're arguing that it takes time for alcohol to be absorbed into the body. Mr. Franklin is demonstrating that to the jury." The judge: What's going on here? Ms. Ross: "Your Honor, may we approach the bench with Penn and Teller?"
First, nothing about Franklin & Bash's inappropriate demonstration is remotely magical. Why Janie Ross uses any magician's name in referring to them is beyond me. They aren't using any sort of misdirection, for example. Everyone can see Franklin opening the beer and drinking it; the question is why? Even after his partner explains the reason, the question is still why? If you want to explain to the jury that alcohol takes time to be absorbed into the bloodstream, call an expert witness. Don't drink the alcohol and then ask the police officer to test your partner's responses with a breathalyzer, which is what these two clowns do. (I said they turned the courtroom into a circus).
Second, judges frown on lawyers (particularly prosecutors) who make the "magician" argument. Comparing opposing counsel to a magician is bad form. In extreme cases, it might be grounds for reversal. As I discuss in a recent article, U.S. appellate courts in general disapprove of lawyers who use magical terms or refer to opposing counsel as magicians. For one example of how appellate courts treat the magician argument, see State v. Nasi, 2005 Wash. App. LEXIS 831 (excerpt below).
Because calling counsel a magician has negative connotations, we do not encourage the use of this metaphor. To protect the integrity of the adversarial system, prosecutors should be exceedingly careful, when commenting on defense counsel's strategy, not to improperly disparage defense counsel or defense counsel's role.
Third, Penn & Teller have said and written repeatedly that they don't drink alcohol. See Penn & Teller, How To Play In Traffic (1997), and numerous interviews, and I would think that most people who have heard of the pair know that. So, I wouldn't compare a beer-drinking lawyer in a courtroom (even one doing so to make a point for his client) to P&T. Even a fictional one. Even on TV. It just doesn't make sense.
Finally, the only reason that I can think of for using a magical analogy is to sway the jury. If a lawyer is going to use a magical analogy, she had better be sure it's a good one. Janie Ross's P&T analogy isn't a good one. As I noted before, Franklin & Bash aren't performing any kind of magic here. Franklin is drinking beer and then plans on a breathlyzer test. Neither Franklin nor Bash leads up to nor continues with any kind of "magical" reference. I think Ms. Ross is just trying to use the P&T name for reasons of her own, reasons which I, at least, don't understand. The reference may in fact, help her opponents, since the jury may identify them with the popular magicians. So, what exactly did the writers have in mind?
A jury has convicted James Arthur Ray, the sweat lodge guru, of negligent homicide in the deaths of three attendees at his 2009 Spiritual Warrior event in Arizona. The jury found him innocent on the manslaughter charges. The penalty phase of the proceedings begins next week. Mr. Ray could receive up to eleven years in prison. More here from the BBC and ABC News (video).
At 1:16 EST summer arrives in the US; folks have been celebrating at Stonehenge since the summer solstice began in the UK today. Things have been fairly quiet despite some drug busts. Jonathan Jones objects to the annual practice here, pointing out that the invented Druidic/hippie/Wiccan ritual bear no resemblance to anything we can discern that might have gone on at the place when it was built. So why allow the festival? "[B]ecause otherwise there would be public violence on Salisbury Plain."
Meanwhile, Penny English, University of Anglia Law School, both a lawyer and an archaeologist, investigates the legal and social questions involved here in her article Disputing Stonehenge: Law and Access To a National Symbol, published at 1 Entertainment Law 1 (Summer 2002).
I'd suggest that Stonehenge's meaning, whatever it might have been when its creators made it centuries ago, has certainly changed. The creators are gone and we are here. Many people who celebrate the summer soltice have now constructed and reconstructed meanings for it, some of them magical, and are fighting over what those meanings are, and how to reconcile them. Is the monument astronomical? Religious? Agricultural? Two of these? Three? None? To the people dancing and chanting on Salisbury Plain, it doesn't seem to matter. I don't think they're deconstructing Stonehenge so much as reconstructing meaning and creating their own magic. If they want to take the position that their meanings create a contemporary use for the monument, that's fine with me. If, however, they want to convince me that those meanings are the only meaning Stonehenge has, they have a long way to go.
Oliver R. Goodenough, Vermont Law School & Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Micaela Tucker, Vermont Law School, have published Law and Cognitive Neuroscience at 6 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 61 (2010). Here is the abstract.
Law and neuroscience (sometimes neurolaw) has become a recognized field of study. The advances of neuroscience are proving useful in solving some perennial challenges of legal scholarship and are leading to applications in law and policy. While caution is appropriate in considering neurolaw approaches, the new knowledge should - and will - be put to use. Areas of special attention in current neurolaw scholarship include (a) techniques for the objective investigation of subjective states such as pain, memory, and truth-telling; (b) evidentiary issues for admitting neuroscience facts and approaches into a court proceeding; (c) free will, responsibility, moral judgment, and punishment; (d) juvenile offenders; (e) addiction; (f) mental health; (g) bias; (h) emotion; and (i) the neuroeconomics of decision making and cooperation. The future of neurolaw will be more productive if challenges to collaboration between lawyers and scientists can be resolved.