All lies? Scientists threatened with legal action over lie detector article
Francisco Lacerda, a professor of phonetics at Stockholm University, is one of two scientists threatened with legal action after the publication of a scientific article condemning the use of lie detectors. The Israeli company Nemesysco, which manufactures detectors, has written in a letter to the researchers' publishers that the researchers may be sued for libel if they continue to write on this subject in the future.
One year ago, Francisco Lacerda, a professor of linguistics at Stockholm University, and Anders Eriksson, professor of phonetics at the University of Gothenburg, published an article in the International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, a magazine for voice experts working for the police and security services. The article entitled "Charlatantry in forensic speech science" gave an overview of the last fifty years of research in the field of lie detectors. The article's conclusion is that there is no scientific evidence to show that lie detectors actually work.
In the autumn, Equinox, the British publisher of the magazine, were canvassed by the Israeli company Nemesysco Limited, a manufacturer of lie detectors. Following this the company demanded that the article be withdrawn, which the publishers duly did. In the online version of the journal only an abstract of the article is now available, along with a clarification from the publisher.
"It is incredibly serious that they are trying to silence us in this way. I have never heard of anything like it. We have apparently damaged their business," says Francisco Lacerda to the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
The article was aimed directly at the company's lie detector patent," said Francisco Lacerda to Dagens Nyheter, "We showed that the invention cannot work. The article had a journalistic tone and was rather provocatively written. We wanted to prove that the technology behind the lie detector is a scam."
Publisher faced with threat of prosecution
In a letter to the publisher Nemesysco's lawyers wrote that the authors of the article could be sued for defamation if they wrote on the subject again. The publishers accepted the lawyers' angle on the article, "We would like to warn the authors that they should not publish the article in another forum and that if they send in a similar article to another journal, they can be sued for defamation," writes the publisher, cited by Dagens Nyheter.
The letter was sent also to Francisco Lacerda and Anders Eriksson. "It's obviously very uncomfortable. We don't know where this may end. At the same time, it is my responsibility as a researcher to share my findings. The company has not put forward any counter arguments, but has chosen to simply try to silence us," says Francisco Lacerda. In a letter to the Dagens Nyheter newspaper Nemesysco write that the Swedish researchers slander the company.
"The biggest problem is the completely bizarre use that the authorities and insurance companies in Britain make of these pseudo-detectors. This situation has arisen because serious researchers, who, understandably, have not wanted to use their time to even respond to this obviously pseudo-science, have left the stage free for less careful players, who proclaim Nemesysco's message," says Francisco Lacerda to Stockholm University's editorial team.
International media attention
At the same time, Nemesysco's actions have led to even greater media attention for the two Swedish professors' research. "It was hardly their intention. But since the article was withdrawn, I have received lots of mail and requests for copies of the article. The article would not have been read to this extent if the company had simply ignored it in silence," says Francisco Lacerda to the Dagens Nyheter.
Read an abstract of the article and the "Note from the Publisher" in The International Journal of Speech Language and the Law: www.equinoxjournals.com/ojs/index.php/IJSLL/article/view/3775
Dagens Nyheter: www.dn.se
Update (May 18, 2009): www.su.se/english/about/news-and-events/journals-science-and-nature-report-on-lie-detector-legal-action-threat-1.1218
Francisco Lacerda profile: www.su.se/english/research/researcher_profiles
Text: Per Larsson/Paul Parker
July 3, 2009
Page editor: Paul Parker
Source: External Relations and Communications Office