Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HAVE YOU EVER LIED TO THE AUTHORITIES?....Starting in July, passengers traveling to Russia will be required to take a lie detector test before entering the country. The device relies on voice stress analysis to figure out who's lying and who's not:

The machine asks four questions: The first is for full identity; the second, unnerving in its Soviet-style abruptness, demands: "Have you ever lied to the authorities?" It then asks whether either weapons or narcotics are being carried.

....Passengers who fail will be subjected to more rigorous interrogation both by the verifier, whose accuracy increases to 98 percent with more extensive questioning, and by its human colleagues.

I realize that Russia is now officially our warmest and dearest friend, but can I just say that this news does not increase my eagerness to visit the land of Darkness at Noon? The prospect of "more rigorous interrogation" doesn't reassure my already jangled nerves, and 98% accuracy doesn't seem like very good odds. What's more, the article doesn't say what happens if you fail. (Or what happens if you answer Yes to the question about lying to authorities.) I think I'll pass on the Hermitage this year.

Via Tyler Cowen.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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Comments

If they are only getting 98% accuracy, the number of false positives is going to bog this system down badly. I can't imagine it will be practical at all.

Posted by: JP on April 7, 2006 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

This is Fitzgerald doing beta testing before he deposes Bush and Cheney.

Posted by: craigie on April 7, 2006 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

If the day comes when we all carry personal %99 accurate lie detectors, will that be a good thing for society?

"You weren't playing the slots again tonight were you honey?"

If it becomes too easy to bust a spouse, maybe nobody will get married.

Posted by: ferd on April 7, 2006 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

There's been quite a bit of research done on these things, and they don't work.

Posted by: BRussell on April 7, 2006 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

"voice stress analysis"

It's been discredited, but so what? Let's use it here.

Posted by: JoJo on April 7, 2006 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

I guess this means our venerable dicktater King George won't be fooling with Mr Putins car collection anymore.

Posted by: duane on April 7, 2006 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

These things should be required when you apply for a new credit card.

Posted by: Political Squirrel on April 7, 2006 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

What you fail to mention is that traveling to Russian or not traveling to Russia could be a moot point. This could be happening in the United States next.

Posted by: Kathy on April 7, 2006 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

I call bullshit on this, and not just because it's from the moony times.

Posted by: Matt on April 7, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

If and only if I am a truth-teller, then I have lied to the authorities.

Posted by: phil on April 7, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

One of our visiting repubbies do a side deal while they were there? "Psst. ex-Comrade. I have a nice line in slightly used Homeland Security equipment. Roubles, Dollars, Vodka, young boys and girls. We can do a deal, Yes?"

Boy, I always get nervous coming back into the US and I'm squeaky clean . . . I think? They introduce these at the border, I don't know.

Posted by: notthere on April 7, 2006 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

This could be happening in the United States next.

It's already happening, except in the U.S. it's in writing.

Posted by: ogmb on April 7, 2006 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

Forget Darkness at Noon. We're fast approaching the season of White Nights in St. Petersburg. Daylight at midnight, anyone? Summer concerts in the city Tsar Piotr built?

"Have you ever lied to the authorities?" I think I could convincingly answer "no." I've done so all my life, honestly as often as not.

Posted by: bad Jim on April 7, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

Voice stress analysis is a total scam; modern snake-oil -- that doesn't stop huge organizations such as the California Highway Patrol spending plenty on it.

The Pentagon tests it every decade or so, and always get 50% accuracy -- exactly the same as a coin flip.

A modern polygraph with two points of galvonic skin response along with heart rate and respiration gets you somewhere around 80% accuracy.

Posted by: JamesP on April 7, 2006 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

Would you believe twilight at midnight? And as for "lying convincingly," substitute perhaps "Yeah, but so what" or "Who are you trying to kid?"

Posted by: bad Jim on April 7, 2006 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK


George Bush: Hitler's revenge.

Posted by: g on April 7, 2006 at 2:19 AM | PERMALINK

Am I planning to visit Russia? Nyet!

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on April 7, 2006 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK

Um, if anyone knows what they're talking about here, Kevin included, they're not showing it.

Domodedovo is 1) not Russia's only airport 2) plays a relatively minor role in international air travel compared to Sheremetyevo-2 and 3) IS A PRIVATE ORGANIZATION.

This isn't Stalinism, you idiots. This is the free market.

Posted by: Greg on April 7, 2006 at 2:31 AM | PERMALINK

You jailed Martha Stewart for lying to a Federal Officer.

Posted by: Mca on April 7, 2006 at 2:49 AM | PERMALINK

That rate of success is at least one false positive on every single full plane coming into the airport. Maybe this is being done to increase bribery opportunities?

Posted by: Doug on April 7, 2006 at 4:12 AM | PERMALINK

I think I'll pass on the Hermitage this year.

No need for that. Just do it the Russian way and bribe the testers.

Posted by: zxcv on April 7, 2006 at 4:28 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, Doug beat it to me.

Posted by: zxcv on April 7, 2006 at 4:31 AM | PERMALINK

So, my answer would be a very srtong " Of course I have!" (lied to authorities...) Would I get in?

Posted by: Richard W. Crews on April 7, 2006 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

i'm not aware of any lie detector test that can honestly boast a 98% success rate. sounds like bullshit to me.

Posted by: snuh on April 7, 2006 at 4:44 AM | PERMALINK

Is there anybody out there that hasn't lied to the authorities at some stage (mostly not so much to cheat as to - ironically enough - avoid further burocratic questions)? So I think EVERYBODY should use Richard W. Crews answer. It would pass the lie detector test but leave the SOVIETS (oops sorry Russians) a bit puzzled.

Of course another possibility is "I guess I probably have, but can't really remember when at the moment though". Or even better the enigmatic "Not today" or "Which Authorities?".

Posted by: reason on April 7, 2006 at 7:04 AM | PERMALINK

Wha' hoppen if you state that you always lie to authorities?

Posted by: kenga on April 7, 2006 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

"So, my answer would be a very srtong " Of course I have!" (lied to authorities...) Would I get in?"

Well, this *is* Russia we're talking about. That may be the answer they're expecting.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on April 7, 2006 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

It's a bit late for April Fools.

Posted by: Bob M on April 7, 2006 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

Is there anybody out there that hasn't lied to the authorities at some stage ...

I'm thinking particularly of my various responses to the question, "Sir, do you know how fast you were going before I pulled you over?"

Posted by: alkali on April 7, 2006 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

I have lied to many so-called "authorities" and proudly too.

So, what happens if I answer yes?
And why are you not allowed to enter if you have lied? And what kind of lie? Did I inflate a charitable deduction for donations to Goodwill? Or did I traffic in arms? Same thing?

And Putin has such lovely blue eyes.
sigh

Posted by: lilybart on April 7, 2006 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

So does this help prove that Bush learned how to read souls from the same place Frist learned how to diagnose brain damage from a video?

Posted by: Irony Man on April 7, 2006 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

"So does this help prove that Bush learned how to read souls from the same place Frist learned how to diagnose brain damage from a video?"

Are you implying Bush wouldn't be of one mind with Putin on this issue?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on April 7, 2006 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

Wow... think of the possibilites of having a lie detector as an add-on to your teevee set, like a Tivo.

Turn it on and watch a presidental speech or a white houes press conference.

It would go up in flames from the overload.

Posted by: Buford on April 7, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Do your parents count as "authorities?"

Posted by: wvmcl on April 7, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

My guess is that it's a control question. Since nearly everybody has lied to the authorities at one point in their life-- even if it's something minor-- most people will be lying if they say "no". That gives the lie detector a baseline to work with. It's basically forcing someone to lie in order to get an idea of how cool they are under pressure.

This sort of control question is pretty common in lie detector tests. Oftentimes they will ask something like "have you ever taken money from a friend or employer", or something personal that everyone does, but most people won't admit to due to social taboos. Since most people actually have done something they're ashamed of but won't admit to (like take $5 from the cash register at their high-school job), etc., the operator gets a good idea of what a lie looks like for different people.

Posted by: M. Green on April 7, 2006 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

My only comment on this is that all "stress" based lie detectors do not work reliably at all. I believe that lie detectors based on real-time brain scanning will work reliably, in an intelligent, well-thought-out interrogation.

The reason the newest designs based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) will work is because the brain (being, some say, only a fancy bio-chemical computing device) shows distinctly different patterns of metabolic activity when it is recalling information stored in long-term memory than it does when asked a question that causes it to be creative.

An interrogator who has done his homework, therefore, when he suspects the interrogatee is lying about a big issue, only has to think of questions that will cause the subject to have to generate small lies to support the big lie. Almost always this is possible, because all real facts exist in a context of other real facts.

In fact, we can even go one better and administer to some subjects drugs (commonly available) which make it impossible to commit something to short-term memory, the necessary stage before long-term memory happens. If we then ask the interrogatee a question that causes him to have to make up a supporting lie, while he has been administered such drugs, he will soon forget this brand-new lie and when asked the same question again days or weeks later he or she may well come up with a different version yet.

This approach requires the subject to be held in a controlled environment for several weeks so that they can't even make notes for themself, and also possibly kept so mentally busy in an info overload environment that they can't mentally drill something into their retention.

In short, the new fMRI techniques will work, but they will take much longer and be much more expensive than the old stress-based lie detection programs. For this reason, national security agencies and large corporations (which frequently like to ask their employees questions relating to basic honesty) are likely to be the main customers for the new brain science.

The original fMRI research was done at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1990's and funded by the CIA. The most recent stuff is being done at the University of South Carolina. Names to associate with this are Stephen Laken (a high-tech entrepreneur) of the Cephos Corporation, and NoLieMRI.com.

In addition, a couple weeks ago I attended the Innocence Project Northwest Conference in Seattle because I am highly interested in accused persons being able in the nasty he said/she said confrontations to testify, if they choose, with the assistance of an fMRI or newer technology. This brings out the point that lie detection sessions must be voluntary, with the cooperation of the subject, and always should be refusable.

At this conference Fred Bookstein of the University of Washington presented some interesting stuff on his interpreting MRI scans in court as an expert witness in relation to the ability of a person to be highly suggestible, as in confessing to something they didn't do.

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on April 7, 2006 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm lying to authorities right now!"

Posted by: s9 on April 7, 2006 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

I guess the Russians have too many domestic liars to admit foreign counterparts.

Seriously now, perhaps, this test is just to bar "not our people", i.e., to bar those who tell the truth.

Alexander

Posted by: Alexander on April 7, 2006 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Hell, I lie to authorities even when I don't have to, just to keep my hand in. Russians of all people should understand this.

Posted by: shortstop on April 7, 2006 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Which authorities?

Posted by: Emma Zahn on April 7, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Michael L. Cook,

I admire your expertise but I have to admit you are scaring me a little.

On the other hand I've been a little tempted to try my hand at some of these tests.

I do a little acting, all on the up and up, and I've wondered if an accomplished actor could fool the tests?

Posted by: Tripp on April 7, 2006 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

s9,

"I'm lying to authorities right now!"

Heh heh.

And then the official's head starts to dance around like the fembot's heads in Austin Powers and the whole computer melts down in an infinite loop.

Posted by: Tripp on April 7, 2006 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Of course I've lied to authorities. When I was stopped for DUI back in '85, I blew a .15. The sheriff's deputy asked how many drinks I'd consumed.

"I only had two beers, ossifer!"

Posted by: Your name here on April 7, 2006 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Have I ever lied to the authorities?

Uh, yeah.

Posted by: The Fool on April 7, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Have I ever lied to the authorities?

Uh, yeah.
Posted by: The Fool

Hell yeah me 2!!
Mine?? No, What is it? Oregano?

Posted by: Lurker42 on April 7, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

How would someone like Scooter Libby answer this question? He was "the authorities," so should he respond yes, or no because he merely lied to a grand jury of his peers and he wasn't really deceiving himself, just trying to help his boss win re-election. Maybe I'm reading too much into this.

But what happens if Scooter does answer yes? Does this mean he won't be able to travel to Russia? Or, does this qualify him for special treatment as a "Friend of Putin" (FOP)?

Then there's Rush Limbaugh and this whole drug issue . . .

Posted by: pj_in_jesusland on April 7, 2006 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

I'd bet that 98% of US business travellers lie on their visa applications. It's common practice to be "sponsered" by a fictitious company. It's actually illegal.

As far as the lie detector machine, big deal. US consular officers are trained extensively to spot liers in the visa application process. I'm sure the average Russian who has had to go through the visa interrogation process would wonder why the US authorities didn't just use a machine. Would probably be quicker, and the end result would probably be more visas granted, not less, since the human consular officers are well-known to err on the side of strictness.

Posted by: kokblok on April 8, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK


98% my butt. This stuff does not work anywhere near that well:

http://scienceblog.com/community/article-print-2295.html

Nemesysco is one of many fraud-based enterprises scooping up easy cash from scared governments around the world, especially the one in the US.

Posted by: loser on April 8, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

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