Sunday, July 09, 2006


A recent story in USA Today reported that two companies will begin using magnetic-resonance imaging as "brain-based lie-detector tests" that reportedly can detect lies with 90-percent accuracy.

"After the 9/11 attacks," the reporter writes, "the FBI, CIA, Department of Defense and other agencies began funding research into how changes in brain activity correlate with truth telling."

Some experts believe that far more discussion is needed about both the accuracy of such tests and the ethical implications of using MRI to detect lies.

"We understand that there are further ethics conversations (needed) when science pushes the envelope," said Stephen Laken, president of Cephos Corp., a firm that will perform the tests at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

What do you think? Is this a brilliant use of technology to detect liars in our midst, or is it an ethically challenged intrusion into our heads?

Send your responses to or post them at Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers'comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


Anonymous said...

Criminals, spouse beaters, pedophiles, tax payers, insurance applicants, employees, religious & political leaders, teenagers, marriage counselors, legal judges, traffic cops,health style professionals, doctors the list goes on and on that would BENEFIT from with a system that tells us the truth 90% of the time. OH! Wait does that mean that 10% of the time it would be wrong? What the heck we can afford to prosecute, berate, jail, belittle,accuse, slander the list goes on and on....of the population even if the system is not accurate because 90% of the time it is right for the benefit of the "rest" of us! OH! Wait are we doing better than that under the current "humanized" systems? Nobody knows. So I would prefer to keep the current system until one is 100% accurate thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

I strongly disapprove the use of magnetic-resonance imaging for lie detector tests. Companies that want the business will possibly be less than honest about effectiveness and other information. People should beware.

We can not allow fear to restrict our freedom.

Margaret Blum
Orange, CA
The Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey Seglin a professor who teaches ethically based courses, has pointed out that through the use of magnetic resonance imaging, government agencies can now use this technology as" brain based lie detectors." This technology can detect lies with a 90 percent accuracy. Having had a major stroke in 1994. with my brain having been rewired, coupled with a 164 IQ, I can tell with a 75 percent accuracy if some one is lying. British researchers conducted a major study, a couple of years ago, using 20,000 stroke patients as participants to find out the following information; that individuals who had suffered a major stroke, had literally become " flesh and blood" lie detectors, with the ability to tell if someone is lying with a 75 percent accuracy. It is good to know that technology is catching up to what God gave us survivors. Is the use of MRI technology, an ethically challenged intrusion into our heads? I would argue no more than having me present around a liar.

Todd M. Brklacich
Murray, UT.

Anonymous said...

My view is that many societal problems result from individuals acting in ways which violate the trust which has been put into their hands. This situation can only be addressed successfully by taking additional steps to ensure that those who actually get into positions of trust are really trustworthy. There was a time when so few people had access to higher (university) education, that those who did get it had been “filtered” through a fairly homogeneous educational system which provided a significant degree of quite uniform acculturation (in, say, Western Europe and North America). They had been “processed” into citizens who had a somewhat consistent set of basic values. In recent times, this model of education has been becoming less valid as education has become more detached from the religious/cultural basis in which it had traditionally been rooted.

Advances in technology will always be utilized by some. Is it not better for all of us to fully understand what the capabilities and limitations of such developments are as contrasted with banning their use and depriving ourselves of that insight? Is it not better to have as much of the information available as possible (including the MRI data, for example), and to rely on the actions of a person who has earned the relevant level of responsibility as a result of having demonstrated that s/he acts in a societally-supported ethical manner in his./her decision-making i decisions on the use (or otherwise) of the data? Even if we are imperfect in our attempts to “screen” for such people, we handicap ourselves if we try to act and/or set up laws which are based on fragmented and incomplete knowledge of new technological developments. Could we expect to see the day when bright young people will have to demonstrate their mastery of appropriate ethical thinking and action (in addition to having high grades) in order to be allowed to proceed to advanced education and research which could eventually lead to being in a position where society’s confidence in the ethical basis of their decisions is essential?

Prof. Philip H. Alexander, M. A. Sc., P. Eng.,
Associate Dean (Academic)
Faculty of Engineering
University of Windsor
Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Anonymous said...

In pondering the use of MRI technology for lie detection, I've discovered a feeling which I call a "One-Way Mirror" syndrome. Maybe its because of competitiveness that I don't want you to see into me, if I can't see into you. But my point is this; I'm bothered by something other than the fact that I might be found out as a liar. Conventional lie detector tests don't bother me this way, and I've concluded that it must be an overriding feeling regarding privacy that makes the difference. I might have evil thoughts, including lust and avarice, that I would not like people to know about - but which have nothing to do with lying. MRI's might intrude on some of these private parts of my brain.

Joe Read
Anaheim, CA

Anonymous said...

Beats torture! GZ

Anonymous said...

As most unintelligent people will say," If you do not have anything to hide, why oppose it." The way the Supreme Court has been ruling, this will become standard practice among law enforcement agencies.

Chris Beale

Anonymous said...

People who feel safe often say "if you have nothing to hide... (fill in the blanks.)"

First off, NO ONE has "nothing to hide."

Second, what to hide and what to reveal is a complex, context sensitive split second decision, and often remaining silent about a "truth" is the right thing to do.

Third, the witches we have hunted in the past may have been "guilty" of what we were then fearful of... believing that communism held hope for the human race, being female and having spiritual powers... But history has judged the witch hunters (not the hunted) as morally flawed. Have we not learned?

Witch hunts are NEVER wise. No matter what technology we use.