Lie Detector Charlatans

This is worth reading:

Five years ago I wrote a Language Log post entitled "BS conditional semantics and the Pinocchio effect" about the nonsense spouted by a lie detection company, Nemesysco. I was disturbed by the marketing literature of the company, which suggested a 98% success rate in detecting evil intent of airline passengers, and included crap like this:
The LVA uses a patented and unique technology to detect "Brain activity finger prints" using the voice as a "medium" to the brain and analyzes the complete emotional structure of your subject. Using wide range spectrum analysis and micro-changes in the speech waveform itself (not micro tremors!) we can learn about any anomaly in the brain activity, and furthermore, classify it accordingly. Stress ("fight or flight" paradigm) is only a small part of this emotional structure

The 98% figure, as I pointed out, and as Mark Liberman made even clearer in a follow up post, is meaningless. There is no type of lie detector in existence whose performance can reasonably be compared to the performance of finger printing. It is meaningless to talk about someone's "complete emotional structure", and there is no interesting sense in which any current technology can analyze it. It is not the case that looking at speech will provide information about "any anomaly in the brain activity": at most it will tell you about some anomalies. Oh, the delicious irony, a lie detector company that engages in wanton deception.

So, ok, Nemesysco, as I said in my earlier post, is clearly trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. Disturbing, yes, but it doesn't follow from the fact that its marketing is wildly misleading that the company's technology is of no merit. However, we now know that the company's technology is, in fact, of no merit. How do we know? Because two phoneticians, Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda, studied the company's technology, based largely on the original patent, and and provided a thorough analysis in a 2007 article Charlatanry in forensic speech science: A problem to be taken seriously, which appeared in the International Journal of Speech Language and the Law (IJSLL), vol 14.2 2007, 169–­193, Equinox Publishing. Eriksson and Lacerda conclude, regarding the original technology on which Nemesysco's products are based, Layered Voice Analysis (LVA), that:

Any qualified speech scientist with some computer background can see at a glance, by consulting the documents, that the methods on which the program is based have no scientific validity.

Most of the lie detector industry is based on, well, lies.

EDITED TO ADD (5/13): The paper is available here. More details here. Nemesyco's systems are being used to bully people out of receiving government aid in the UK.

Posted on May 6, 2009 at 12:14 PM • 40 Comments

Comments

AnonymousMay 6, 2009 12:50 PM

>Most of the lie detector industry is based on, well, lies.

I bet they will pass a lie detector test just fine...

Pat CahalanMay 6, 2009 1:48 PM

Clearly, the marketing material was just developed as a test bed for the lie detector, and it just wound up on the web by accident.

RHMay 6, 2009 2:11 PM

I remember a Mythbusters where people theorized that you could see lies in brain activity. A lie required consistency checks which generated increased brain activity. Grant successfully stumped the machine by thinking about some of the unsolved engineering problems in his life on truths, filling the truths with noise =p

The tried and true lie detector works best: if you don't like the answer, it must be a lie!

AnonymousMay 6, 2009 2:21 PM

@RH
> if you don't like the answer, it must be a lie!

Great algorithm. It definitely frees up my mind for more important pursuits.

Raider Nation ftw!

GeorgeMay 6, 2009 2:31 PM

Even though the validity of any technology that purports to detect lies has never been proven, the Authorities who run "security" and "criminal justice" systems have a continuing desperate need for some way of detecting lies.

In the 17th century they wrapped accused witches in chains and threw them into a river. If the accused sank and drowned, they were conclusively innocent. If they somehow survived, they were conclusively guilty and quickly burned at the stake. Even though the system killed the guilty and innocent alike, the Authorities considered it highly effective because it was based on the best "science" available at the time: A witch's association with Satan would repel the water of Baptism and force her to float.

Since the Ordeal By Water is no longer considered acceptable (except perhaps to Dick Cheney and his toady lawyers), we have substituted newer techniques based on more modern science. The polygraph is the gold standard "lie detector." Even though it's actually little more than a fancy Ouija board, it's still used for criminal investigations and for security clearances presumably because it's "better than nothing." As with any other form of security theatre, it does have some potential value because it's still capable of intimidating ignorant people into confessing something.

The need for lie detection remains so urgent that anyone who asserts a sufficiently impressive "scientific" basis of some new device is bound to make some money (until the next "scientific" technique comes along). And it may be just as effective as the polygraph at eliciting enough confessions to convince users of its value.

OldFishMay 6, 2009 2:33 PM

I'm shocked! What sane person could even contemplate the possibility that marketeers could spew crap? Pretty soon there will be rains of frogs, cats and dogs living together. End of days, man, end of days.

Seth BreidbartMay 6, 2009 2:40 PM

I can easily build a "lie detector" to determine whether airplane passengers are terrorists, with better than 99.9% accuracy.

It's a piece of paper that says "not a terrorist".

BCSMay 6, 2009 3:40 PM

OTOH it's amazing how easy it is to get people to tell the truth if you can lie to them about being able to detect there lies. I seem to recall a cases where a few good guesses and lie detector made out of a salad colander, and a photocopier got a full confession

TheBadStuffMay 6, 2009 3:45 PM

Nemesysco threatened the journal that published those results, and the journal caved and removed the article from their website.

They also threatened the authors with defamation suits should they publish anymore articles exposing Nemesysco.

Is it any wonder their very name contains a variant of the word "Nemesis"?

http://www.thebadstuff.com/nemesysco/

DavidMay 6, 2009 3:52 PM

While more than a bit tongue-in-cheek, there are lessons to learned about what we're doing now when you consider that it is easily possible to build a detector that detects (with a zero percent failure rate) every terrorist or lair presented to it. This is true in testing, and deployed in the field.

It's just that it has a relatively high false positive rate.

It's a slip of paper that says "I am guilty". Once mandatorially read aloud by any person being tested, testing stops and you arrest them for having confessed to lying or terrorism or whatever. With a witnessed confession you get a good conviction rate too.

Note that refusing to read the slip of paper when asked demonstrates premeditation, intent to commit a crime and to lie to a licensed investigator.

Avoiding situations where you would be likely be asked to read the slip of paper demonstrates intent to hamper a police investigation and if the person who would be tested has discussed it with anyone else, criminal conspiracy before the fact.

In both these cases, you arrest the person being tested.

Except for the false positive and possible bad press issues, these systems would be near perfect at catching terrorists and liars.

These two issues could be addressed by an aggressive publicity campaign focusing on the advanced technology/training of the testers, the seriousness of the threat and the importance of not missing "any" of the terrorists since it takes "only one" to create another 9/11.

Critics could be tested by this same system to determine if they are part of a traitorous network of terrorist sympathizers.

After a while public acceptance would come around once press releases focused on the high conviction rates and lack of future attacks on the systems protected by the testing.

It somewhat disturbing that this somewhat flippant scenario bears similarity to whats currently happening in the US.

kangarooMay 6, 2009 3:54 PM

"Disturbing, yes, but it doesn't follow from the fact that its marketing is wildly misleading that the company's technology is of no merit."

Well, not logically or in a court of law. But in the real world, it's a mighty fine heuristic. If someone talks like a used car salesman, it's a good bet that there isn't an ounce of value in what they're saying.

And, in a real world of limited resources, a good heuristic beats logic every time, hands down.

Ward S. DenkerMay 6, 2009 6:01 PM

"It is meaningless to talk about someone's "complete emotional structure", and there is no interesting sense in which any current technology can analyze it."

It would seem that either someone at that company had read Orwell's 1984 and thought "hey, that thought-crime detector might be a great idea to build" and proceeded forthwith. Alternately, they may not have read the book and considered the ramifications of "success."

LarsMay 6, 2009 7:12 PM

Nemesysco is a very aggressive company that probably know that their technology won't stand up to scrutiny.

That is why they took the quite unusual step of going after the researchers personally with lawsuits to try and supress the scientific finding.

IIRC their technology is just a good at predicting true/false statement made by a subject, as it is in making true/false statement on pure traffic noise.

So basicly it just doesn't work. At all.

The only thing it has going for it is if people truly believe that they will be caught by the machine and decide not to be deceptive. But then of course, false positivies quickly gets a big headache for everyone involved. Especiellay those who get wrongfull accused.

KieranMay 6, 2009 7:20 PM

@TheBadStuff
Would the removed articles still be in Google's cache? Maybe they could get rehosted somewhere and not give in to Nemesysco.

RoboticusMay 6, 2009 11:04 PM

@Lars
Attacking researchers personally with lawsuits is unfortunately not unusual. DMCA 1201.

CampbellMay 6, 2009 11:37 PM

I'd like to sell you a product I just invented that detects if you lying in an email by measuring the standard deviation of the position of whitespace in the email...

Clive RobinsonMay 7, 2009 1:04 AM

@ Bruce,

I'd like to "sell" you an idea...

You occasionaly have "Snake Oil" posts that usually produce lively and entertaining but often insightfull comments.

Due to changes seen in your "Snake Oil" posts I'd like to propose another post catagory which is "Wooly Jumpers". This is for those ideas that use "wooly thinking" and "jump to the wrong conclusions" based on such thinking.

The main charecter for more recent "Snake Oil" posts appears to be the "Willfull Pushing" asspect these days.

Which whilst illistrative of the sleaze of bottom feeding hard sell "marketing" and the attendent "bottom feeders" it attracts is getting away from what many (of us old timers) feel your blog is about.

To put it in terms of "food" (a subject close to many readers hearts), the "Snake Oil" could be likend to the "gristle", you can realy chew on it, it sharpens your teeth and gives the jaws excercise and to a lesser extent helps remove fat. But it gets away from the "meat" and thus lacks the essential nutrition (for the brain) that allows for the healthy growth that provides the healthy bone and muscle that is needed to chew with...

The important thing is do not see the suggestion as one to of reducing or getting rid of "Shake Oil" it is good excercise, but one of providing a rich suppliment to it to promote healthy growth.

AnonymousMay 7, 2009 3:58 AM

> ... using the voice as a "medium" to the brain and analyzes the complete emotional structure of your subject

the latest SF movie?

the best lies detector is the "burning of witches" detector: Tie the woman and throw her in the water. if she drowns, she is innocent.
only works with red-haired women.

mankind is stupid.

Patrick G.May 7, 2009 4:32 AM

What's worse than a test that is unreliable?
People in charge who believe it is reliable.

And even at the supposed 98%, if people can be trained to avoid detection (as I heard an Ex-KGB say on sme TV show) and, it no use to have the innocent 98%.

Clive RobinsonMay 7, 2009 4:57 AM

The thing I love best about lie detectors in their various forms is how the provide a fruitfull example of why "double blind" trials etc have limits.

Which in an example of circular reasoning of the best kind ;) becomes very obvious once you understand what the limits are...

A classic example is the story of a couple of police officers using a "fake" lie detector and got improved conviction rates, and it was the success that gave rise to people finding out what they were upto (nothing like success to make you enamies).

And although apparently an "urban legand" it appears based on a "hushed up" reality to protect the good name of the force involved... (anyone for a"conspiracy theory"?).

Whatever the truth it does bring out the why of the "placebo effect" of lie detectors, in that people belive what they want to belive.

Behind the story are some verifiable facts that appart from the actuall numbers appear to be fairly universal in WASP countries.

The story has a belivable asspect that hangs on the following points,

Police officers after using their considerable "experiance", "local knowledge" and "hinky detectors" usually have a very good idea of who was very probably behind a particular petty crime. It's just a matter of getting a conviction that is the real hard part of the job.

Theres nothing new here it's how something like 99% of petty crime enquiries start, and of the actual successfull conviction (which is very low and often below 5%) 99% of the convictions are due to "criminal stupidity" of which something like 85% are because the criminals talk about what they have done and others "grass them up" no hounour amongst "brotherhood" of theives then. (Coincidently there is growing evidence that women theives are less likley to be caught by "flapping their gums" than men and take simple and sensible precautions which work the system very much to their advantage).

The problem the police have is how to get a "stupid" "perp"/"scrote" to "fess up" in the shortest period of time.

With politicians demanding "lock them up" and "bad lawyers" getting 60% or more "perps to walk" out of court it's not an easy job in "target driven society" with the press claiming politicians are incompetent and cannot stop "little old ladies being betten in their homes" or "children being abused/abducted by sickos" etc.

Under such preasure some countries politicians have changed the age old "right of silence" rules others have allowed pre-trial hearings where a suspects supposed "bad charecter" can be brought up and then addmitted into the trial as evidence, not as would otherwise be "inadmissable hearsay".

Even with this the official "conviction rate" stays stubbonly low.

Police forces try other tricks such as down grading certain crimes, and under "officialy" reporting others then there is the age old "taken into consideration" tricks. So the real low conviction rate can be a lot less than a quater the "official conviction rate".

It is also why the likes of politicians and some ACPO members are "so enamered by DNA Databases".

So with such an example from on high it's not surprising that front line cops are looking for new methods where even a 1% increase in crimes to court would make them look good and get the seniors their target met bonus which is a sure way to get promotion...

But and it's a big but with criminals getting smarter, how do you do it? And in a way that would get past the court system (theres the old "Miranda might be right" but was not a "good girl for the boys").

Oh and of course Human rights, rubber hoses and wet blankets realy are "so old school" (1970's) as is "good cop bad cop" and the perps have started to wise up due to their TV watching.

Anyway with some of the background out of the way back to the story,

Therefore what where these two cops going to do. It had to be a new method and they wanted it to be "high tec" as courts still don't appear to understand low tec, but it had to be cheap and easy.

As always some one arround the water cooler or coffee machine stated the "bleeding obvious" and suggested "we need lie detectors" as these are consistantly seen to convince juries and get perps to fess up and are "advertised a lot" on TV in the slightly brighter perps viewing schedual so they belive it as do politicians and burecrats (we now call this the CSI effect, but it's older than Kojack's lollypop ;)

Then a bright idea occured to the cops, you very rarely get to see a real lie detector in use on TV because it looks like "Victorian health" or "1950's brain" research, and is realy realy slow viewing and no where near as entertaining as watching a full frontal lobotomy (lookup "Ice Pick" method to see why).

Supposadly these cops eventualy realised that it needed to be,

A) simple to use (they are cops after all ;)
B) had to have a nice easy to understand output (we are talking "stupid" "perps" here)
C) had to be high tec looking (remember the TV education)
D) not easily recognised by a perp.
E) easily and quietly available to the cops at no cost or real risk.

The last two points were the Achillies heal to the "water cooler" musings.

Then as the story has it one day the department got some new equipment and over the first coffee of the shift somebody said "hey did you see what got delivered yesterday it looks like the bridge of the USS Enterprise and it's only a photocopier, you recon the admin staff will be able to work it".

After a couple of more cups of coffe a light started dimly in one cops mind, and as he's a cop he just can not let it go.

So over a beer he says to his partner "I've had an idea about our perp problem". After a little discussion and a lot more libationary muscle relaxant (hey being a cop is stressfull the beer helps you calm down ;) they have worked out some basic details and it's such a funny idea they have a good laugh over it for the rest of the night.

A few days later they get called to a crime scene and one look tells them the MO and they know the perp, they've pulled him down town so many times he's getting enough frequent flyer miles to get to Auz. The trouble is he just acts dumb and there is never quite enough evidence to get past his "well suited n booted" ex "ambulance chaser" "shark", so the "13@5t4rd" (think illegitimate perp) keeps getting away with it.

So there they are the boss is giving them grief and the coffee tastes like the bottom of an ash tray that has not been cleaned in a year (yup they know the taste they remember it well from their "initiation hazzing"). They've only got a little time and they know the perp is going to be "walking" again.

They know that due to "cost effectivness" there will never be any real forensic work carried out it costs to much and there is no likelyhood of a conviction so why waste the money.

Then the idea comes back and the cops think what the heck lets give it a try, the usual is not working.

So one of them goes for a chat with the perp whilst the other gets some photocopy paper and puts TRUE and FALSE on a couple of sheets of it.

They then drag the perp down to the "bridge of the USS Enterprise" stick his hand under the cover and ask him a few questions they know the answers too. With each answer from the perp one cop presses the button there's a beep a whirl and out pops a bit of paper. The cop takes it off and appears to pass it to the one asking the questions in reality he's actually passing the TRUE or FALSE paper over which is then held up for the perp to see.

Very soon the perp is getting those "sure signs" the cops know and love he's taken the bait. Half an hour later the perp has fessed up to not just this crime but a whole load of others.

The cops shove the photo copy paper into the folder and take it and the perp back to the interview room they sit the perp down and start the formal interview which is being recorded. Each time the officer says "You know we know you did X on Yday do you want to tell us about it?" and if the perp starts hesitating the other cop just says "You know we know because we've got the evidence to prove it and who's the jury gon'er belive" and lifts the folder up to the perp.

A little while later the confession is written up and signed and they let the perp go before the Shark can spring him. They then show the conffession and the tape to the boss he's impressed they made it look so easy.

The perp knows that what he's said on tape is true because it is and so down he goes for a short stretch (the cops had a word with the judge especially as the perp dropped others in the net).

After this great success they try it again with those dropped in the net. And again it works like a charm. The Cops are on a roll, their conviction rate starts to rise and promotion is being hinted at.

And then the problem starts. soon these cops don't bother realy thinking about what they are doing, they just pull in "the usuall suspects" and one will "roll over" to the lie detector. Covering it up gets hard and that's when one of their "brother's in arms" colleagues finds out and grasssess them up (there's nothing meaner than "office politics" when promotions in short supply")

What does the boss do when he finds out?

Obviously it's got to stop but the perps have confessed in ways where the confession can be shown to be true, it's brought in other criminals where it's worked. And again it's true as the criminals stories contain details which hit with details in the crime file. So nobody has been hurt (well maybe not) so it's not done any harm the real danger is it's going to be politicaly embarising and those that promote have long memories...

Therefor the story has it he chews the cops out good and propper reads them the riot act and warns them if they ever do it again etc etc...

Things return to normal and the issue appears to have passed but the perps talks the word goes around and eventualy it becomes "street talk" with the likes of "Hey you hear about JoJo them cops got some new lie detector it read his mind his brief say it wern't legal but nuffing he can do cause the it's da truth". The story spreads and get interested

As all good stories go somebody as usuall finds out or suspects from what's said what the truth behind the lie detector is.

And when it getts down on the street that it's just a photo copy machine then the story realy realy get's around with "Hey man that JoJo he sure is a dumb ass he fessed up to a photo copier you'd think he was smarter than that and he went and grassed up "Billy-Bob as well".

The point of the story appart from it has it's funny points, is that when you mix facts in with what people think is true then it becomes true untill something quite major makes them change their mind.

In this it is just like the medical "placebo effect" where if a patient belives they are going to get better they start to show some measurable improvment, however if it's a serious illness then long term result is still the same they sucumbe to the pathogen...

Where ever humans are involved you get the same "short term" "confirmation of theory" simply because they want it to be true. So other factors make it happen. But as with things like CCTV and some drugs trials the long term results are the same or worse than before.

Anyway speaking of the medical fraternaty I've just got out of hospital, yet again I have had a very bad rapid onset (bacterial) infection at an "operation site" but with the bad fever and inability to get rational communication with first responders etc they started checking me out for a sombrero and a small curly tail, thankfull this "gringo pig" did not have the H1N1.

The trouble is though they put you and your stuff in infection control which usually means you get seperated from all your worldly goods (including the shirt off your back). And lets face it electronics and liquid infection control do not mix unless you have an urge to "walk on the wild side". Which sadly means no mobile phone aghh!! so no Internet or other contact with the outside world unless you pay a kings ransom to those Rip Off merchants who provide the combined "bedside services" phone (1USD/min making or receiving), TV (20USD/part day) and Internet (I didn't dare ask how much).

Oh and don't you dare ask why the electronics (cheap PC board etc) of the bedside service was excempt from infection control, the minute you show that you know what you are talking about Hospital Admin get a "cobb on" and become "jobs worths" and say "rules are rules" or other such nonsense to that effect...

Anyway after the blood vessel burning very painfull IV antibiotics the one they have given me to take away is Oral Clarithromycin.

So if you know me personnaly please do not visit or at least please do not stand behind me or down wind of me or you are putting yourself at grave risk and please do not be alarmed if at times I sound lika a bad plumbing system or appear to hover they realy do rip through your digestive tract 8(

Paul RenaultMay 7, 2009 6:04 AM

There's a paper by Mssr. Eriksson and Lacerda called "Charlatanry in forensic speech science" which covers a lot of the same ground, which has been withdrawn publication, as they've been sued by the subjects of the paper. (The paper might initially have been flagged here.)

Tough luck, Nemesysco, I have my copy.

JasonMay 7, 2009 1:58 PM

Two things I've noticed from watching Unsolved Mysteries.

The first: if you refuse to take a lie detector test on the grounds that they are ureliable and inadmissable, you continue to be a person of interest.

The second: less of a maxim than a particular situation. A suspect was asked during the calibration stage to say "I killed my wife" so they could adjust the machine. He refused and obviously was still vigorously investigated.

mooMay 7, 2009 9:19 PM

@Jason: "if you refuse to take a lie detector test on the grounds that they are ureliable and inadmissable, you continue to be a person of interest."

Of course! So what if they might be innocent and it might give incorrect results which tend to make them look guilty? Anyone who wouldn't take a lie detector test obviously has something to hide, so further investigation is clearly warranted!

/sarcasm

A clever perp would just agree to take the test and then manage to fool it. Despite the near-uselessness of the test, it might convince the investigators that he was innocent, throwing them off the track.

IainMay 8, 2009 5:53 AM

Interesting article in the UK edition of Wired magazine this month on use of brain scans in India for lie detection. Outrageously people have been locked up for life on the basis of what is highly dubious technology. The Indian company selling it is now looking to expand to other countries.

Alistair KelmanMay 8, 2009 9:32 AM

Bruce
I thought that the science behind this is that if a person is lying their brain takes a microsecond more in formulating the answer than it does when telling the truth and that this can be detected using new technology.. http://tinyurl.com/q77pgf

AK

bobMay 8, 2009 9:51 AM

@Seth Breidbart: I have a similar scenario: The FAA only requires that aircraft fuel gauges be accurate when the tank is empty. There is no requirement for it to be accurate at any other point.

So my solution as an aircraft manufacturer would be to simply paint a needle at the "E" and not actually have a moving needle (or sender, wiring, etc) at all. When tank is empty it would be accurate. When not empty it would not be, but is not required to be so still good.

Besides, its usually pretty obvious when the tank is empty - that huge fan on the front of the plane stops and that makes the pilot start to sweat - very easy to detect.

mkvfMay 8, 2009 11:05 AM

What's being missed in a lot of the reporting on this, at least outside of the UK, is that Nemesysco's 'technology' is being used as a tool to bully people out of receiving housing, disability and unemployment benefits: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2007/apr/05/...

Harlesden, the council that's been piloting this, is one of the most deprived parts of London. To the private companies that administer benefits in the UK, it doesn't matter if this works, so long as they can cut the amount of cash they pay out.

Capita, the company running it in this case, kept unemployed people in Hackney, another poor London borough, waiting six months to a year for housing benefit, forcing many of them into homelessness as a result.

That Nemesysco's system can be made to give whatever result you want is what Capita are paying for, not an accurate lie detector.

MBYMay 11, 2009 10:18 AM

The story is big in Sweden. In December 2007 two Swedish scientist (Eriksson and Lacerda) wrote a paper named "Charlatanry in forensic speech science: A problem to be taken seriously" about the claims of Nemesysco. Nemesysco threatened to sue the journal publishing the paper. The journal took the web version of the paper off-line and published a apology. An real attack on academic freedom. A few ago, the KVA, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, published a strong statement in support of the academic freedom.

http://www.kva.se/KVA_Root/swe/_news/detail.asp?...
(if you read Swedish)

http://www.kva.se/KVA_Root/eng/_news/detail.asp?...
(if you read English)

MBYMay 11, 2009 10:21 AM

Sorry, missed a word or two..

"_an apology_ " and "a few _days_ ago" is more readable. :p

MBYMay 11, 2009 12:55 PM

Sorry, I didn't read the thread very thoroughly. The paper was already well covered!

Doug CoulterMay 11, 2009 3:57 PM

@Clive,
Sorry to hear you were subjected to the "tender mercies" of any medical system.
Did I hear you say that under the "superior" British system we Americans are "hoping" to get stuck with, that you have to pay for telephone, TV and so on?

Aha! I knew there was a catch! When I was recently in the hospital (in America) that stuff was "free", but of course just being in the hospital at all, watching nurses so stoned on painkillers while the clients screamed due to the nurses having stolen theirs, and paying more for that (eg a bed with no treatment -- I waited 10 hours for emergency surgery) than for the surgeons and gas-passers wasn't precisely a joy ride. Hmmm.

I know this is off topic. But hey -- real observations are important to share.

Clive RobinsonMay 12, 2009 12:44 AM

@ Doug Coulter,

"Did I hear you say that under the "superior" British system we Americans are "hoping" to get stuck with, that you have to pay for telephone, TV and so on?"

The systems are very very different and I have experianced both at various points.

In the US you pay for the expensive but essential stuff whilst the sales persone chucks in a few non essential freebies to keep you quiet. In the UK you get the expensive essentials for free whilst a salesman tries to flog you the fripperies of life that might make your stay more enjoyable.

The advantage of the US system at first sight is it is quick for the patient (providing they can pay) and efficient for the bean counters. But has obvious disadvantages when insurance gets into the act. In essence everything in the US system is counted checked and double checked and a bill provided. The health care is by far the secondary issue to billing which has conciquences. Some good like "high tech diagnostic equipment" being cheeper than doctors is prevelant. Some bad like the lack of ongoing training and insite into patient needs, also research is no where as indepth in general except where externaly financed which has consiquences such as what strings the cash comes with... Also and importantly chronic conditions are about as welcome as a Oink under a Sombrero. Such are the joys of profit over patient.

There is a hidden side effect of the US system that is National Security. Not just in the fact that the US health care system is very brittle and has no resiliance, but also in that it has simply moved the cost to society to other parts of society in a way that most people in the US are very uncomftable thinking about untill it is to late for then...

The NHS was set up to rid the UK of the ills of profit over patient and the inability by many to get health care for lack of resources. The downside is that once it's free everybody want's what they think is their fair share...

The cake is only so big and the system does not involve a few fishes and a loaf of bread so not everybody is going to be satisfied.

Maggie Thatcher (the milk snatcher) tried to embrase "Freemarket Goodness" into the NHS over twenty years ago and the result is very much the on going disaster you would expect on trying to force an alien ethos onto people (imagine what would happen is the whole US where suddenly ordered to do everything in Spanish...)

The trick will be for both the UK and US to take the bits that are good from each others systems and build two differing systems that although different are closer together than they currently are. And hopefully in the process ditch those "bad practicies" that have built up.

However as has been seen in the UK keep short termism and Centralised Agender Dictatorship out of the plans otherwise you are just stiring one pot of mess into another.

Oh and I have experiance of health care in some other EU countries... Some of which don't provide food, you or your relatives are expected to sort out this...

RogerMay 13, 2009 1:02 PM

@george:
"In the 17th century they wrapped accused witches in chains and threw them into a river. If the accused sank and drowned, they were conclusively innocent. If they somehow survived, they were conclusively guilty and quickly burned at the stake. Even though the system killed the guilty and innocent alike, the Authorities considered it highly effective because it was based on the best "science" available at the time: A witch's association with Satan would repel the water of Baptism and force her to float."

Mediaeval and Renaissance beliefs about witchcraft have relatively recently become subjects for formal historical study, and it has turned out that much of what "everybody knows" about the subject is fabricated. Some of these "facts" are distortions, some are invented from whole cloth. Some of these inventions are propaganda created by the nineteenth century French anti-clerical movement; others are just Gothic horror invented by novelists to sell books.

Ironically, the story you recount here about the "ordeal by cold water" is one of those cases with an inkling of truth behind it, but where the present version bears only a passing semblance to that truth. The usual description is reasonably accurate for the activities of just one person, Matthew Hopkins, but far off the mark otherwise. Hopkins was the self-proclaimed "Witch-Finder General": a 17th century English charlatan and / or Puritan fanatic who during the chaos of the Civil War claimed to be acting on the authority of the Parliamentarians (but wasn't.) In fact all of his witch-finding activities were illegal and he only got away with it because the authorities were too busy fighting for survival. Hopkin's theories certainly weren't based on either Church doctrines of baptism, nor on best available science (he was a contemporary of such brilliant natural philosophers as Robert Boyle and Sir Francis Bacon!)

Other than the aberration of Hopkins, the various "ordeals", including ordeal by cold water, were ancient history by the seventeenth century. The Church was strongly opposed to trials by ordeal, which were of pagan origin, and it attempted to ban them three times, finally succeeding in the thirteenth century. Ordeals had never been particular to witchcraft trials but were used in any case with strong circumstantial evidence but no eyewitnesses. Furthermore, in exact opposition to the popular myth, court records indicate that persons taking this ordeal were rarely injured (because they were tied to a safety rope), and nearly always acquitted (because to be convicted you had to not merely float, but float so high that the safety rope didn't get wet.)

While we're at it, I might also point out that not all persons convicted of witchcraft were condemned to death, and those who were were condemned were usually hanged, not burned at the stake. The confusion in this case possibly stems from the Scottish practice of immediately cremating the corpse of an executed witch.

Clive RobinsonMay 13, 2009 4:54 PM

@ Roger,

Some of the confusion over burning actually comes from the continent where animals associated with either the devil or evil (yup they did distinguish) where burnt in various unplesant but crowd pleasing ways.

The specific example is the burning of cats in baskets (from Spain and into Eire and hence via N.I. to Scotland). Due to the brutal mating act of cats (they have barbs on the penises) and polecats and other members of the species they where considered to be evil and where burnt at festivals etc.

Witches are supposed to have familiars which unlike ordinary creatures had a soul given to them by (the fallen angel) lucifer or the Devil (and comes to us via the Hebrew belifes and not writing the name hence 666 being the sign etc). And the only way the unfortunate trapped soul could be released was by consuming the flesh by fire.

However what is known is that when it came to wars on belife the odd burning at the stake was much appriciated by the massess (as where public hangings etc in other times). Oh except when the condemed had a large bag of gunpowder hanging around their neck).

For out and out entertainment value capital punishment in it's verious forms has always been a crowd pleaser (even within the past ten years or so in certain parts of the world).

One punishment (boiling alive) came about because a cook tried to poison a nobal family. It was decreed that as they had tried to kill by cooking then they should in turn die by cooking.

But even when an unfortunate had been dispatched to another place, often their head was used as a football by apprentices etc who would kick it back and forth around the town, usually with it ending up on the town midden (the reason for beheding was the belife that you could not enter heaven incompleate which in later times was why the reserectionists where so revialed).

There was of course the punishments reserved for traitors that had real to the heart crowd pleasing value and would get them standing on roof tops. Often the unfortunate person would be draged through the town on a hurdel (effectivly afence pannel) to the apointed place of execution. Where they would be hung by the neck, which involved pulling them up not the drop. When nearly dead as evidenced by an erection, they would be cut down and drawn either eviserated or fully emasculated. In either case their "vital parts" would be placed on a brazier infront of them to watch them being consumed. And then if they survived all that (and quite a few did) they would be quatered. There is some argument as to if this was a simple hatchet job by the executioner or as some sources have it to be tied between four horses and torn appart (the latter is not actually as likley as generally horses will not pull against each other).

For others there where such novelties as "breaking on the wheel" where your joints where smashed with hammers. Gelding and gouging (for taking of the King's game), which was not actually intended to kill, but having your testicals and eyes torn not cut off did sometimes prove fatel...

Oh and for the common man who had upset society in some mild manner there was the stocks. Usually a minnimum sentance was a day and a night. And the real thing you had to fear was not being pelted by rotten vegtables but the village lads taking turns with you after dark. Which was why the stocks where usually conveniantly located on the village green usually adjacent to the pub...

There are all manner of other delightfull punishments such as little ease in the Tower. Oh and the nastieness awaiting those who refused to plead (pressing).

Oh and then there where the things people did to themselves just to get closer to God, hair lice and tick infected under clothing, self flagulation with barbed flails, adopting contorted positions for hours or days infront of an alter, fasting, purging etc.

All I can say is they must have been one heck of a sight more tough than 21st Century man.

billyMay 15, 2009 6:55 PM

Y'all might be interested to know that the Canadian security intelligence service (CSIS) includes a polygraph test as part of its recruitment process.

Evidence: http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/crrs/prcss-eng.asp

Either they are stupid (thinking polygraphs work), or they are very smart (intimidating with false info).

ChrisMay 19, 2009 6:25 AM

Is there anywhere I can get the paper from without going through scribd? I get a message saying I need to enable javascript even though javascript IS enabled in my browser.

And requiring javascript proves the site doesn't care about security. Which makes using it a bad risk.

wdsJune 17, 2009 2:13 AM

@Clive: If you're going to write posts that size, at least use a spell checker for goodness' sake.

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