Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, VI, 21.

Anyone who has read my work here or known me for any length of time has heard me use this quote before. It is more than just a pithy quote from one of the great Stoic minds of antiquity, it is a summation of one of my personal ethics. Earlier this week, Professor Turley posted an item about former President Bill Clinton entitled “Clinton: We Don’t Need A President Who Will Not Tell You The Truth“. The gist of the article was that a President who lied under oath as Clinton did most certainly didn’t need to be critical of other politicians lying as it was simple hypocrisy even if the point former President Clinton made was valid. This brings us to a prime and necessary component of the propaganda scenario, the liar.  Lying is a commonality in our species.  Everyone lies about something some time.  “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat, honey.”  “I was ambushed by baboons on the way to work this morning.”  “I can’t go out tonight because I have to stay home and wax my dog.” Or the classic . . .

These are not the lies that are of primary importance in propaganda. White lies, while not necessarily ethically the best thing in the world, are a social lubricant that helps keep society cohesive. If everyone told the truth about everything all the time, the homicide and suicide rates would probably sky-rocket. We are going to focus on the truly bad actors. The liars in propaganda who are looking to get you to do something they want that is usually not in your best interests and/or harmful to others. Since many dangerous liars are sociopaths or psychopaths, the question becomes how do you spot a liar, a sociopath or a psychopath?  First we start with how to spot a generic liar before considering how to spot socio- and psychopaths at a later date.

We have discussed previously the language behind lies extensively in discussing the use of logical fallacies in speech to give untruths the veneer of truth. This is a great skill set for detecting lies in written materials and to a degree in the spoken word but the tool set is not all inclusive for dealing with the spoken.  What about in person or through visual media where you can see the speaker?  You need a different skill set to supplement the other so to that end, I bring you a TED presentation by Pamela Meyer.  Some background on Mrs. Meyer:

Pamela Meyer is founder and CEO of Calibrate, a leading deception detection training company based in Washington DC. Before writing the bestselling book , Liespotting, she spent years with a team of researchers surveying all of the research findings on deception, and underwent extensive training in facial micro-expression identification, interrogation skills and statement analysis. Prior to that she was an Internet and media executive, as founder of Simpatico Networks, a leading social media company. She is a Certified Fraud Examiner, has an MBA from Harvard, a Masters in Public Policy.” (Huffington Post).

The talk she presented at TED only glanced off the topic of verbal lies, but what she offered on body language is very important as are many of the ancillary points she makes about the value of detecting lies in the search for the truth – a thread underlying the Propaganda Series (pardon the pun).

Meyer’s list of tells in this speech is probably not as comprehensive as what is offered in her book Liespotting. The following list is a bit more inclusive than that in the speech.

Verbal cues:

  • Verbal cues such as changing to a noticeably higher or lower pitch, rambling, selective wording, avoidance of answering questions or attempting to change the subject, stammering, distancing language, loaded words, and the use of qualifiers (although much like Freud’s advice about cigars, sometimes a qualifier is just a qualifier).  Studies have also shown that liars use less contractions.
  • Unusual response time – shorter or longer. Planned (and rehearsed) lies and the liars who tell them tend to start their answers more quickly than truth-tellers. If taken by surprise, however, a liar takes longer to respond as on the fly fabrication takes time.

Physical cues:

  • A fake smile. Real smiles crinkle the corners of the eyes and change the entire face while faked smiles involve the mouth only.
  • Under or over production of saliva.
  • Pupil dilation. This nonverbal signal is almost impossible to fake. Larger pupil size that most people experience when telling a lie can be attributed to an increased amount of tension and concentration although some drugs or medical conditions can cause pupil irregularity.
  • Change in blink rate – A liar’s blink rate decreases before and during the lie and then it increases rapidly after the lie.
  • Fidgeting foot movements. ‘Nuff said.
  • Face touching. A person’s nose may not grow when he tells a lie, but watch closely and you’ll notice that when someone is about to lie or make an outrageous statement, he’ll often unconsciously rub his nose. (This is most likely because a rush of adrenaline opens the capillaries and makes his nose itch.) Mouth covering is another common gesture of people who are being untruthful, as is covering the eyes.
  • Unusual changes in gestures – Either unusual stillness or an increase in placatory gestures.
  • Microexpressions can be difficult to catch, but if you ever spot a fleeting expression that contradicts a verbal statement, believe what you see and not what you hear. Psychology Today has an excellent article on distinguishing microexpressions from other body language.
  • The quick-check glance – the classic of liars immediately looking down and away and then back at you again in a brief glimpse to see if you bought the lie.

Blended cues:

  • Incongruence not only in words but in gestures – Using logic and evidence as a guide you can spot both explicit and implicit incongruous statements. That is not the only kind of incongruous behavior though.  When a speaker believes what they say, gestures and expressions are in alignment with her words, e.g. you nod up and down when you say “yes”. When gestures contradict words – such as a side-to-side head shake while saying “yes’, it’s a sign of deceit or at least an inner conflict between what that person is thinking and saying.

All of these skills, detection of false logics and loaded language, the art of reading body language and tone of voice, all of these skills have something in common.  They are all a sort of pattern recognition. Just so when we later consider a more holistic application of pattern recognition in recognizing both sociopathic and psychopathic speakers. these are guidelines. People are people and one or two this these behaviors may be caused by different things such as medical conditions, medications and/or other stressors.  For example, I once had to take a lie detector test and do an interview where I worked because a bunch of hard drives had been stolen.  I didn’t take them.  I wasn’t worried about that. I was, however, very tense because of an ongoing fight with my then girlfriend over something totally unrelated to work.  The examiner told me at the end of the interview, “You’re obviously under some kind of stress, but I don’t think you’re our hard drive thief.” So keep in mind that unless you have a preponderance of pattern evidence, your suspected liar may not always be one. Another important thing to keep in mind is all of this pattern recognition goes right out the window when dealing with a pathological liar, but we’ll address that topic with socio- and psychopaths.

Armed with these skills, how many liars do you think you can spot in the next week?  Either at work or in the news?

Remember the Stoic’s advice, seek the truth.  That is always a key in combating propaganda.  It also doesn’t harm the Aristotelian effort to lead an examined life and it is a civic duty to keep government honest and operating off of the real instead of the illusory.


Source(s): TED, Huffington Post, Psychology Today

~submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The Propaganda Series;

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Streisand Effect and the Political Question

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence

Propaganda 104: Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Ars Es

Propaganda 103: The Word Changes, The Word Remains The Same

Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Child’s Play

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)

Propaganda 101: What You Need to Know and Why or . . .

Related articles of interest;

Mythology and the New Feudalism by Mike Spindell

How about Some Government Propaganda for the People Paid for by the People Being Propagandized? by Elaine Magliaro


105 thoughts on “Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

  1. Gene,

    Don’t have time to read this now (I’m sure it will be great ;-) ), but I wanted to get in on the comments…

  2. The truth is the truth regardless of its form…. A liars wok is never done….. Good article Gene….I saw this on TED…..

  3. Gene,

    Like Kevin I have to run, to cook dinner actually, but this is something that I find of great interest. I especially want to view the TED talk by Pamela Meyer. Before I go cook my baked chicken in mushroom sauce, with onions an tomatoes there is something I want to relate quickly.

    When I was in training as a Gestalt Psychotherapist it was of course important to get a sense of when the patient was deceiving both the therapist and themselves. What we were taught in essence was to go with our gut. This is not as easy as one might think because for most of us in this world that encourages repressed feelings, we sometimes lose focus on what we actually feel. For the Gestalt Therapist the process is to stay in touch with your own feelings while you are listening and watching the patient. It took me awhile but after my first of five years, I could actually stay in touch with how someone else’s words and bearing, affected my own feelings (gut). One would be surprised how the sudden feeling of a pain in ones neck and/or ass tells you so much about someone you are listening to and watching. Those feelings can guide you when deciding if someone is speaking truthfully..

  4. I still am licensed and work a few cases now and then. Just finished one. You see, Gene, I have a life and a career. I have marketable skills and had much success using those skills. You have this little fiefdom, and your little, meaningless, arguments. But, “Whatever gets you through the night.”

  5. MikeS, I had fascinating conversations w/ my therapist about lie detection. She taught me a few things and I did likewise. As you know, 80-90% of all communication is non verbal. I have a pot roast in the oven w/ mashed squash and baked apples.

  6. You don’t know anything about my personal or professional life, nick. but if you want to talk yourself into a defamation suit, I’m sure you’ll do it eventually. Although you really have little to worry about that as once again I have to remind you that your opinions of me don’t mean anything to me or – here’s the salient part – to anyone of import to me.

    But thanks for once showing again that you’re just a sad old backbiting bitter ball busting prick devoid of any substantive argumentation skills, people skills or logic. It’s not like you haven’t demonstrated that in copious amounts already.

    If you don’t have something substantive to add to this thread?

    Well that would just be par for the course.

    Apparently don’t start none won’t be none is simply too complicated a lesson for your lil’ mind to grasp there, putz.

  7. raff,

    That would be interesting. I’m afraid the sensory overload might negatively effect her health though. She’d have to deal with them one at a time. The whole room at once might make her head explode.

  8. Gene, This is an interesting topic on which I have 30 years of experience. Don’t hijack your own thread, let’s just let this go. I would now like to reply to juncttionahamus.

    junction, I’m familiar w/ Sapir. I had an opportunity to attend a conference where he spoke but had to cancel because I needed to be in court. One of my associates went and said he is fascinating. I’ve spoken previously about how impressed my old man was w/ EL AL security when he worked for Pratt&Whitney. From what my dad told me they were probably trained in the techniques Sapir teaches. I’m not familiar w/ Kelly? Please tell me more.

  9. In my exit interview from the military, I was required (because of my clearance) to take a lie detector test. There were two interviewers, one working a machine, the other reading questions from a script.

    About halfway through the script, the question was, “Have you ever stolen anything from your office?”

    I answered No. There was no reaction on the machine, and that was the last question on that page. The interviewer turned the page, looked confused, turned back, then turned two pages. A page in the script had been stapled out of order.

    While he was doing that, it popped into my head that I had a red pen from the office in my barracks room; I had it in my breast pocket one day after work, and I had never brought it back. Shit, Did I steal something from the office ?!?

    The lie detector beeped. I said nothing. The two interviewers looked at each other, the guy at the machine shrugged one shoulder; and they moved on to the next question, on the out of order page. When I left the compound I made sure I left that red Bic pen in the barracks.

  10. Kelly was Sapir’s sidekick when I took Productive Interrogation Course at Ft. Meade in ’86, courtesy of the Mossad. Sapir’s favorite saying at the time was something about relying on the fundamental principle of working off a person’s guilt; and if he couldn’t make you feel guilty, he’d call his grandmother to have a chat with you.

  11. Dr. Ray Birdwhistell made the study of non-verbal communication his life work. He called what he did the study of “kinesics.” He was an anthropologist who became interested in communication and how people communicate. When discussing body language, Birdwhistell cautioned that there are no “universal” gestures. How a gesture or movement is conducted may have different meanings in different cultures. This compounds the problem of the interrogator. In fact, gestures may have different meanings in different parts of this country. Also, even in the same part of the country, a gesture might have one meaning from one ethnic group to another.

  12. Gene,

    I’ve read Liespotting several times and have found it very helpful but some of the methods aren’t all that easy to employ in a casual setting.

    However, I think my subconscious has absorbed more during each reading and thus I have come to more readily trust my “gut” reaction to liars. Also, I am less inclined to be involved in the co-operative act and thus am lied to less frequently.

  13. I have said to many parents when I was a teacher and just folks I know that a must read for teenage girls about to go out on their own is, The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. Blouise, de Becker speaks much about gut and how it saves lives. Malcolm Galdwell in Blink does also, but de Becker’s focus is on keeping people, particularly women, safe.

  14. OS, You’re correct, it’s more craft than science. And like any craft, the more you do it the better you get. Smart attorneys are good @ detecting liars, as are good docs, salespeople bartenders, waiters, etc. My ability to read people has literally saved my life.

  15. lies with hate being unfriendly are abominable. Asking if a person had sex or not drilling them to get them to say no when they did is the kind of thing people did to who spit on you, prophesy. If he got it wrong they would have said he lied. People have sex. let it be. The people being unfriendly being abominable are the people against Clinton.

  16. Back a long time ago, when I was first learning the business of lie detection, the first thing I learned was that psychopaths can lie and beat almost any machine. That is because they tend to have no anticipatory anxiety. What a “lie detector” machine does, is to measure stress, a term psychology has borrowed from physics. Both the polygraph and voice stress analysis devices measure stress and do it rather well. The problem comes when it comes to translating measured stress into something meaningful. Remember, the machines are measuring stress, not lies.

    Another thing I learned early on, was that almost any question about sex will trigger a stress reaction in western culture.

    I ran Richard Nixon’s speech where he declared he was “not a crook” through a voice stress analysis machine. Those three words put the needle into full stress mode. On the other hand, you should see the stress levels in a Naval aviator’s radio transmissions while making a carrier night landing. That exceeds the stress level of any “lie” I have ever seen. On the other hand, a professional con artist will beat the machine almost every time.

  17. nick spinelli
    1, November 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm
    I have said to many parents when I was a teacher and just folks I know that a must read for teenage girls about to go out on their own is, The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.
    this sounds like a necessary read….I have always ‘respected’ my fear….it has never failed me in discerning the situation around me……getting out of those situations is a different story…..I don’t buy into all the facial tics and body language stuff….I suspect it is only half true and in that light may give some info, but every person is unique and one mans unconscious lying itch is anothers socially ackward shyness and spotlight discomfort. How could you tell the difference? For a lie to be criminal mustn’t it also be conscious????

  18. OS,

    Since the topic of machinery has come up, have you seen any studies on psychopaths using fMRI testing? I knew they can defeat classic stress tests, but the fMRI is a totally different creature.

  19. I’ve attended a couple seminars @ Stanford as part of their free program to introduce people to their STS[Science, Technology, Society] program. They offer a major in this but have ~4-6 seminars a year for anyone to attrend. I went to one that was about using MRI’s and other technologies to detect lies. The focus of the seminar was not so much the science, it was made clear it is quite effective, but the societal ramifications. The group attending were all over the map from some intelligence people, attorneys, security people, etc. The consensus was this is coming so we better create some guidelines, fast! This was ~4 years ago. You can get on the email list. They even have free lunches, @ least they did when I went.

  20. Gene, I do not know of any studies using the fMRI. That does not mean there have been none, but if there have I have not heard of it. One of the problems with that, as well as the PET scan, is the machines are multimillion dollar gadgets and in use almost constantly for medical work. Any researcher would need some serious money just to book some time with one of those high end machines.

  21. Let me let you in on a little secret: I often ask OS questions I know the answer to because I want his particular input to play off of for Socratic purposes. Your cooperation on these matters is greatly appreciated. Thanks for not answering a question not directed at you though. At least you got a free lunch out of it.

  22. You are making sex worse than killing.That’s screwed up thinking. Why can’t you be like Jesus is judging yourself? Love whoever as yourself=f. Do that, and people will be better by beholding that in you. You make Hitler kind of Genocide better than sex. That is crazy thinking. You like Hitler You are friends with Hitler in your head.

  23. OS,

    Like any expensive new tech, the price will eventually come down, but because of nature of how the machine works (detecting changes in magnetization between oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood), it’s not a technology I see being easily deployed into the field any time soon because of noise issues. You can’t just lug one around and set it up most anywhere like you can the voice stress and polygraph machines. I also understand that both fMRI and PET machines rely on rare earth magnets that no matter what are likely to remain a cost issue for some time. Which leads to the next question, because of their general efficacy, can you see a situation where a court would order such a test despite the limitations of cost and access?

  24. @Artie – That’s the American way. That’s while you’ll see someone blown up, before you see a set of ta-ta’s on TV – Geez, I can’t even say breasts, that’s how repressed I am…

    BTW – Thanks for your service to all the Vets on this list, and to all of those who waited, or waited in vain, for theirs to return home. Amen.

  25. OS, According to the aforementioned seminar I attended, there is already work in progress to make MRI’s convenient and specific for lie detection. The govt. is involved..of course! Think about how cell phones, computers, hell everything gets more efficient and portable. Remeber, MRI’s are now made for the the whole body, these Brave New World ones only need to chart the brain.

  26. Here’s a hint that I have found most useful in dealing with almost anybody … listen very carefully to the first full sentence they utter … and remember it.

    I’m not trying to be cryptic. That first casual sentence almost always has some deeper meaning behind it.

  27. Gene,
    Never an fMRI, but I did get a defense lawyer make a motion for an MRI for an indigent criminal defendant, which made the judge apoplectic, but we got our MRI.

    That was right after it first came out and the cheapest you could get an MRI of the head was at least a thousand dollars, and that was almost thirty years ago. The judge knew he had to approve it or almost guarantee he would be seeing the case come back from the state Supreme Court. I have never seen anyone get so mad so fast as he yelled at the lawyer about what it was going to do to his budget.

  28. Blouise, listening is a lost art in our culture. Most people don’t listen, they wait to talk. Along w/ your hint, w/ many people the key is silence. People feel like they need to fill the void of silence because it make them uncomfortable. That’s often when truth is spoken. When I did criminal work it was usually about pain ol’ truth/lie. The civil litigation I’ve worked since the early 80’s is more nuanced. Not to say it’s not sometimes about flat ass lies. But most of the time it’s getting people to tell the truth when they know it will cost someone some money. It’s in many respects more challenging. “The truth shall make you free.”

  29. nick,

    I read The Gift of Fear in 1999. I remember the year because I started giving the book as a gift to my own girls and friend’s girls in 2000. Last year I gave it to 3 of my granddaughter’s friends as part of their high school graduation present.

    It’s an excellent read.

  30. Nick,
    There are logistical, mechanical and electromagnetic limitations on the MRI. First of all, it is huge and heavy in addition to being obscenely expensive. There is no getting around that because of the massive magnets. Then there is the massive high-Gauss magnetic field around it, requiring special shielding in the room where it is housed. Another factor about transporting it is the fact that it has to be calibrated like cross between a Swiss watch and an astronomical telescope. In short, you cannot jiggle it.

  31. W=^..^

    Artie is no bot, but it is not a surprise his posts aren’t making much if any sense. They almost never do. But be sure to ask him about his stand on bestiality. You’ll be horrified. And that’s the truth.

  32. nick,

    Re the listening bit. So true. Here’s an example.

    I made an appointment with a woman to discuss the music for her daughter’s wedding. I knocked on her door and when she opened it I introduced myself and she said hello and opened the door wider gesturing for me to enter. As I did, she paused and looked outside and said, “Winter is coming soon. Only another 2 months.” I took note that winter coming in 2 months was important to this woman.

    We finished discussing the wedding music for the following month and then over a final cup of coffee I asked her about winter coming. She hemmed and hawed a bit then told me that with her daughter married and out of the house she was finally free to get a divorce. “In 2 months I’ll file.”

  33. Blouise, If I were still employing people you’re the kind of person I would hire. The best PI I ever had work for me was a woman. She was a cop for a year and hated it. She decided to stay home and raise her 3 daughters. Her dad was a retired homicide detective I had hired. When I told him I was looking for someone and would like it to be a woman he suggested her. Kathy’s youngest was @ that time in school and she was bored as hell. She turned out to be better than her old man. She was unassuming, pleasant and sharp as hell w/o ever feeling compelled to let people know that. And, no matter how far women have come in our culture, hardly anyone expects a woman to be a PI. Her undercover work and surveillance was superb.

  34. junction..Wow! I’m glad you shared that. I have people call me for referrals all the time. I’ll put you down as the guy in Colorado if you would like, I don’t have anyone there to refer folks to. I now only take cases from old clients I like and since I’m in San Diego for the winter I can’t work there since I’m not licensed in Ca. What’s you specialty?

  35. Two specialties – Guns and drugs, and drugs and guns. Since Mesa County is the first county heading E/B on I-70, we get a lot of importation cases. Send me a direct e-mail so we can take our trash off this thread! :-)

  36. OS, The discussion was not about portable MRI’s per se, but more compact to be in an office setting like a CIA or FBI office. And as we know, expense is no object to the govt; they print money for chrissake, that is after they’ve taken all they can from its citizens.

  37. Blouise, Gave the book to my daughter and about 5 of her friends for high school graduation. I learned of the book from Oprah!

  38. Nick,
    The idea that an MRI or similar device could be installed in a government office is certainly doable. There is one other matter that comes to mind that could be a problem. I don’t know if you have had an MRI, but I have. It took almost three hours and required my absolute cooperation. Additionally, although I am not claustrophobic, I could easily have become panicked if not for pretty good self control. It was unpleasant, boring and I had to hold my breath repeatedly until I thought my head was going to explode.

    I cannot envision an interrogation going well using the MRI.

  39. Like I said OS, the consensus was they are quite effective, it’s just making it practical and deciding on the ethics. Ethics were the bulk of the conversation. I was ambivalent and remain so.

  40. Again gentlemen, I’ve had MRI’s of different parts of my body, also. The MRI for lie detection only needs to scan your HEAD. Now some heads are bigger than others[literal is the only consideration in this regard], but all MRI’s now are for the entire body. You should be able to visualize one just for the head being significantly smaller.

  41. nick,

    I have a friend who is a licensed PI down in Florida. She spends the majority of her time in front of a computer.

  42. Nick,
    I think your proposal has run out of forward momentum. Yeah, an MRI for just the head could probably knock off a couple of hundred pounds, but it would still weigh as much as my pickup truck. And how about a few thousand pounds of heavy duty shielding for the magnetic field? There is still the problem of getting a subject to cooperate. And once the images are obtained, what do you do with them? How would they be interpreted that would meet a Daubert challenge?

    Let’s face it, we are at least one or two generations away from developing an imaging system that would do what is being proposed.

  43. Chrissake, OS this isn’t a “proposal.” This is what I learned @ a Stanford seminar that was held and attended by people who are cutting edge on this stuff. I don’t care if you believe it. I don’t know how far down the road it is. But it seems you’re more than a bit myopic. This isn’t an “argument” it’s a discussion. I’m not making a proposal, I’m simply sharing something I learned that is pertinent to this discussion. Take it or leave it, to each their own. You do know there are mobile MRI’s on semi’s that go to rural hospitals that can’t afford one don’t you? Well, even before these changes are made the CIA could drive up to your house and do one right now. Certainly not practical but quite doable.

  44. OS, Very good. I don’t know what you do for a living but I am always interested. I did not purport to know anything on this subject other than that seminar. And, as I stated a couple times, the focus was on the ethics. The seminar was conducted by Hank Greely who was a law professor @ Stanford @ the time. There was a neuroscience guy and a guy from Sun microsystems security. And, as stated previously some govt. folks. I would love to hear your take. I don’t know anything about you. I profoundly understand having people presume they know stuff about your profession just because of a little information. Hell, anyone who watched Magnum PI thinks they know what PI’s do. I’ve had supposedly intelligent people here tell me PI’s don’t do witness prep. Just plain stupid and flat ass wrong. We share a disdain for people who talk out of their asses. I do lie detection for a living using human techniques described in this post. MRI’s as lie detection was brought up by someone and I just said what I little I learned. Again, please tell me what you do and more of your thoughts. I would like to learn more.

  45. Nick,
    Forensic scientist. Specializing in profiling, mental health/illness, insanity cases and neuroscience issues for the past forty years. Am now semi-retired, but do not do boredom well at all, so take a few cases that interest me.

  46. Thanks, OS. Were you public or private sector. Since you take a few cases now I assume you’re private doing defense work, but did you start out public?

  47. I do not limit what I do. I work a lot with law enforcement and am a consultant to several Sheriff’s departments and city police departments. For a long time I had a deal with the state AG office as a consultant on capital cases. I have been on the professional staff of several mental health facilities, as well as private practice. Personal injury cases interest me, especially when the injured person has a TBI.

  48. The Ecomomics Dept. at George Mason U. has an FMRI used to understand how the brain makes economic decisions. It will always bug me that the econs get to do something that’s better left to the Psychology department. Also, how does one get to do a TED talk on deception (human behavior) when her field is public policy? I haven’t seen the talk yet.

  49. Nice discussion on machinery that can detect lies, but the really important issue raised in this post is how do we detect liars in the context of propaganda? The first debate which everyone deemed went to Romney was an interesting case in point. Romney’s attitude was bluff, forceful and bullying. Obama’s response was far too measured and lacked emotion. We know Romney was lying about his position and his economic “plan” to save the country, but to many, including the pundits, that was less important than the fact he appeared robust. Can we then conclude that from a propaganda sense, accomplished liars are aided by many people’s perceptions of bullies being tough?

  50. Mike,
    Bluster and bravado are a poor substitute for actually knowing what one is talking about, but it is marketable. The trick is to not let it go unchallenged, which is what Obama did in the first debate. We even see that tactic in some of the comments on this and other blogs.

  51. Mike,

    “Can we then conclude that from a propaganda sense, accomplished liars are aided by many people’s perceptions of bullies being tough?”

    I don’t see a way around that. It’s 250,000 plus years of evolution that creates the Alpha reflex among non-Alphas. That is why it is important the logic and evidence be king. Proper causal analysis and proper analysis of propaganda works to negate that effect. Having good facts and good logic negate bluster to a substantive degree.

    In a way, learning to combat propaganda isn’t just about the truth – although it is and primarily should always be about finding the truth. It is also about freedom, including freedom from those who would bluster their way into power as they are little more than tyrants. That is the beauty of Marcus Aurelius’ maxim: it invites challenge instead of simple unquestioning capitulation and it invites not just challenge of the world around you, but challenges to yourself. It’s usually a bad sign when someone is challenged that they can’t rely upon logic, evidence and reason to make their case. Governance must be a practice based in fact and reason if it is to be successful and stable in the long term. Irrational governance based in wishful thinking puts the Akins and the Mullahs in charge. The survival of our species is to precious to be left to those who themselves are governed by magical thinking and emotions. In your work here on the authoritarian mindset, you’ve modelled other behavior that caters to bullies and does so irrationally. Critical thinking and knowing how to triage out propaganda from fact are essential survival skills for our species. A certain amount of bully is a charismatic draw. It’s a posture of strength, but that’s what it is without substance; just a posture. But if you can sort out propaganda and lies and bad logic in general, at least you can make sure you pick a leader with a good solid platform to stand upon without the often debilitating effects of spin.

    Evidence and logic are king. They are not the best tools because they are king. They are king because they are the best tools. This is such a true and useful maxim that it not only applies to law but to science as well.

  52. Yes, facts are great but what you do when a plurality of the population chooses to ignore them (e.g., birthers, climate change skeptics)? What can you do when your logic is labeled as spin and an audience yells bullshit in the face of facts? It’s hard to effect cognitive dissonance in those people. Impossible even. Worse, when those in power give lip service like calling something an ongoing or unsettled debate but we’ll look into it. Then nothing. Or they cherry pick research results or manipulate research to come up with “facts” that bolster their argument. Read Merchants of Doubt for examples. Trust but verify may be the best we can do.

  53. @bugdrown: Yes, facts are great but what you do when a plurality of the population chooses to ignore them (e.g., birthers, climate change skeptics)?

    Move ahead without those people, or face the fact that we can be overwhelmed by ignorance and superstition that can literally kill us. The fact is that some people are so emotionally captured by ideas that they love they would literally rather die than give them up. They are “all in” on those ideas.

    You typically do not have to do much exploration of a person’s “reasoning” to find out is isn’t reasoning, it is based upon a fundamental false premise they refuse to surrender. I have spoken to a climate change denier whose fundamental premise was that God would not do that to us. Another that thinks it is all a scheme by “scientists” to get money for making stuff up.

    Birthers will not be convinced, ever. Nobody will ever convince them that any evidence of Obama’s American birth is not a forgery; and frankly why should it? Our Intelligence agencies can forge any document they want and make it undetectable. Particularly something the birthers would not be allowed to physically handle or run experiments upon, just visually examine.

    The first fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is always the presumption of common ground reference points from which one can reason, and by “common ground” I mean something that both you and your opponent will stipulate is a true statement.

    The second fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is the presumption of common RULES of reason and logic. That is easy enough when the logic involves arithmetic, but it is often impossible when the logic involves human behavior, emotions, or motives that are far less quantifiable than simple facts or numerical values.

    For an example, consider a jury determining whether a man is guilty of a serious crime. What any individual considers “beyond a reasonable doubt” can vary widely; because not all people “reason” in the same way about motives, or whether an alibi is plausible or not, or whether a statement was truthful or not. The defendant says, “I would not hurt her, I loved her.” For some jurors that has weight, for others it does not. And it is not necessarily the gullible that believe that; a juror may be an expert lie spotter, a retired cop or FBI agent or high stakes negotiator, that detected no signs of deception in the defendant; but his faith in his own expertise may not be convincing to the other jurors that are distracted by a compelling motive, like a large amount of money.

    In the human mind rationality is a fairly recent evolutionary add-on to the brain, and it remains a tool of the emotional brain. Emotions will trump rationality, and there are tons of evidence for that. Whether you believe in that evidence or not!

    In order to engage in reason, debaters first have to find the ground rules of what they both are emotionally committed to believing. Trouble ensues when we take for granted the foundational beliefs.

    What one does, in that situation, is try to find the fundamental belief that was taken for granted but is rejected by your opponent. If it can be found, then the way forward is to change their mind about that point.

    But the exploration can be fruitless; some people purposely evade revealing that point, because they know it is weak or indefensible (but they are emotionally committed to it).

    Even if you find it, you may not be able to convince them they are in error. People believe in MANY things that I do not believe in at all, and vice versa.

    Some conclusions rest on a collection of beliefs that have to be shared in their entirety for two people to agree upon something. If that is not the case, and you cannot change their belief system, and you cannot argue to the same conclusion using THEIR belief system, then you are just doomed to disagree, and suffer any consequences of that disagreement. One of the consequences is to act anyway with them opposing; or vice versa, or perhaps nobody acts at all, you just both continue to believe you are right and have proven your point. Which of course you each have, in your own system, and of course you each failed to prove your point in the other person’s system.

  54. @Nick Spinelli: a red pen! What did you do in the service?

    I was a office grunt in uniform running errands for and cleaning up after officers. The red pen was used by them in marking up and putting notes on reports they read; just because it was more visible, on review, than a black or blue pen.

  55. Had a situation that only an enterprising PFC could sort out…Tricked the S-4 into giving me boxes of markers in each of five colors + blue ball point. Got the Bn Cdr to pick a color, and went on down S-1 to S-4, + Commo with the others, giving them a “staff color”. That way, you knew who was commenting about the intel annex from the S-2, or OpOrder from the S-3, etc.

    My first board exercise, Pre-ReForGer, 1979. Ran out of acetate unit type/size stickers. Substituted with Gummi bears and paper clips. Infantry – Gummi with paper clip at port arms; Artillery, Gummy – clip through head; Armor – clip through chest. Engineers? Gummi with a paper clip up it’s ass…

  56. “The first fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is always the presumption of common ground reference points from which one can reason, and by “common ground” I mean something that both you and your opponent will stipulate is a true statement.”

    This is why there are laws, rules of evidence and civil procedure.

    “The second fly in the ointment for the “evidence and logic” scheme is the presumption of common RULES of reason and logic. That is easy enough when the logic involves arithmetic, but it is often impossible when the logic involves human behavior, emotions, or motives that are far less quantifiable than simple facts or numerical values.”

    id. And law uses fuzzy logic and/or socially accepted norms to address these kinds of points as they tend to change over time.

    The problems you point to Tony are real problems but they center on communications breakdowns or simple obstinacy. Some people will always be dedicated to a wrong or a bad idea as you point out. If they weren’t, there would be no theocrats in the world. Evidentiary standards and logic are tools and not everyone has good tools or knows how to use them properly, but being that they are key to interrogating the truth of reality in both science and law, if you have a better tool set for the job I’d sure like to hear about them.

    Minds can be changed. Reality is what it is.

  57. @Gene: if you have a better tool set for the job I’d sure like to hear about them.

    I was answering the question “what to do when…” and my answer is basically that with some people there is no route to success in the argument, because the real problem is that two sides are each committed to irreconcilable fundamental beliefs. For rational or irrational (emotional) reasons.

    Just as one example, no argument from any human will ever convince me of the existence of a God, and there are people in my family for which (I believe) the opposite is true: No argument from any human will ever convince them that there is NO God. I think my argument is from rationality and their argument is from emotion, they think I have been tricked, but in the end we are never going to agree! So for me I think it is important to recognize that impasse and move on to some other common ground; like we both love a crunchy apple pie crust.

    There is not a better tool set for the job, but I think sometimes there is an alternative approach to applying those tools: When logic does not convince somebody, we can (sometimes) still use logic in our head to figure out what their rule base is, and develop the argument for “the right answer” using their axioms; i.e. to bypass the flaw in their thinking that we cannot correct and reach agreement anyway.

    Metaphorically speaking, if the “7” key on their calculator is broken, we can still compute correct answers by replacing 7 with (8-1), (14/2), etc. It is more work but we can get there.

  58. Tony,

    I think your example of the existence of God is and interesting example. It’s a question that ends in a nullity because of lack of evidence – one man’s lack of evidence is another man’s statement of faith – and circular reasoning, thus is crippled from both an evidentiary and a logical perspective. People trapped by this kind of thinking are more often than not trapped in magical thinking as a general rule. However I do take your point. That being said, we need to recognize while some questions have no provable answer, most do and almost all have a solution that is workable if imperfect. Questions like the existence of God are a nullity to rule by evidence and reason. It’s not a question science or any frame of reference based in this universe can ever answer by the nature of the question. Ergo, the need for secular government becomes manifest – we can only address (resolve) Earthly problems and this needs to be the focus of governance. Leave the ontological and theological questions to priests and philosophers. Beyond excursions into epistemological thought, there is no use for that in governance but to cloud the provable factual and logically definable issues with belief and superstition. It’s a hard enough job as it is, why make it harder by inserting arguments about the unprovable and motivations based on the irrational?

    On the statement: “There is not a better tool set for the job, but I think sometimes there is an alternative approach to applying those tools: When logic does not convince somebody, we can (sometimes) still use logic in our head to figure out what their rule base is, and develop the argument for “the right answer” using their axioms”. The law and argumentation have that function already. You always build an argument to an audience based on that audience’s nature. It’s simply good argumentation practice. This is a key element to persuasion and since argumentation is persuasive speech, the two are inextricably linked.

  59. Other than propaganda when it is well crafted appeals to a need in the audience, I’m not sure I see the connection of “Somebody to Love” to the subject, Dredd.

  60. Gene H. 1, November 12, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Other than propaganda when it is well crafted appeals to a need in the audience, I’m not sure I see the connection of “Somebody to Love” to the subject, Dredd.
    “When the truth is found to be lies” indicates that the one masquerades as the other.

    The big lies do big damage, the little lies do the little damage, until they grow up to be big lies.

    But then it may be too late once again:

    Our generals actually bear much of the blame for the mistakes in the wars. They especially failed to understand the conflicts they were fighting — and then failed to adjust their strategies to the situations they faced so that they might fight more effectively.

    Even now, as our wars wind down, the errors of our generals continue to escape public investigation, or even much internal review.

    (Pressing The Pentagon). Big lies.

    The little lie about medals in the US v Alvarez case (my first comment supra) got the attention of congress, the big lies have not.

    Wanting to make little lies a crime but “propaganda when it is well crafted” a hero’s tale is a fools errand.

    The antidote to damage by these fools is “good good lovin'”, because love is the only medicine that can help sometimes, magic at other times, and who knows what else it is until they discover what it is that is the “air beneath their wings.”

    Propaganda is a deadly disease.

  61. Gene H 1, November 12, 2012 at 12:46 am

    It’s 250,000 plus years of evolution that creates the Alpha reflex among non-Alphas. That is why it is important the logic and evidence be king. Proper causal analysis and proper analysis of propaganda works to negate that effect. Having good facts and good logic negate bluster to a substantive degree.
    I can’t see why the minor portion of time (.0000 … 1) is seen as more of an impact on the Alpha reflex than the major portion of time (99999999999999.9999 ….) in evolutionary terms:

    The Earth is said to have formed  “around 4.54 billion … years ago” (History of Earth).

    Therefore The Big Bang happened about 9.21 billion years before the Earth formed (13.75 – 4.54 = 9.21).

    Biological organisms formed on the Earth about a billion years later, which would be ~10.21 billion years after The Big Bang.

    Humans, homo sapiens,  are said to have evolved about 200,000 years ago, which would be ~13.7498 billion years after The Big Bang.

    The abiotic epoch which preceded the biotic epoch involved a vast amount of “time” as we know it, populating vast areas of space with the atoms that make up chemicals, the subject of the scientific discipline Chemistry:

    Dr Clarke said: “There are a lot of fundamental questions about the origins of life and many people think they are questions about biology. But for life to have evolved, you have to have a moment when non-living things become living – everything up to that point is chemistry.”

    “Our cells, and the cells of all organisms, are composed of molecular machines. These machines are built of component parts, each of which contributes a partial function or structural element to the machine. How such sophisticated, multi-component machines could evolve has been somewhat mysterious, and highly controversial.” Professor Lithgow said.

    Many cellular processes are carried out by molecular ‘machines’ — assemblies of multiple differentiated proteins that physically interact to execute biological functions … Our experiments show that increased complexity in an essential molecular machine evolved because of simple, high-probability evolutionary processes, without the apparent evolution of novel functions. They point to a plausible mechanism for the evolution of complexity in other multi-paralogue protein complexes.

    The most complex molecular machines are found within cells.

    Writing in the journal PLoS Pathogens, the team from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences show how they studied the molecular machine known as the ‘type II bacterial secretion system’, which is responsible for delivering potent toxins from bacteria such as enterotoxigenic E. coli and Vibrio cholerae into an infected individual.

    Professor Richard Pickersgill, who led the research, said: “Bacterial secretion systems deliver disease causing toxins into host tissue. If we can understand how these machines work, then we can work out how it they might be stopped.”

    (Do Molecular Machines Deliver Toxins of Power?). The gist of this is that the era of the evolution of machines is just another way of saying the epoch of abiotic evolution.

    (Putting A Face On Machine Mutation – 3). Do evolutionists indicate they are lying by such “body language” of aversion?

    It seems that those points you mention, exhaustively quoting the lady lie detector, would indicate as much.

  62. pete9999 1, November 12, 2012 at 6:53 pm


    try this site for a military opinion of the terror/oil wars

    I read the post Boring David which had this:

    Immaculate honesty is the lubricant which best oils the wheels of any relationship.

    I had to think “that statement is so at odds with American life, and especially American Government discourse.”

    I also had to wonder what army that Ranger Against War came from Pete9999.

    Anyway, thanks for the link.

  63. Interesting blog there, pete. Thanks for the referral.

    And let’s see there, Dredd . . . ending up like Nate Silver. Hmmm. You say that like it’s a bad thing. “David Brooks called me a wizard. And not in good way which made it all that more satisfying.” lol Thanks, dude.

  64. Yeah, what’s up with “ending up like Nate Silver?” Ending up the nationally recognized premier expert on political statistics two elections in a row? The inventor of a statistical machine that is actually reliable?

    Like David Plouffe, Silver could earn literally millions of dollars as a consultant in the next campaign; this one proves his methodology is no fluke. Heck, he could probably earn millions working for the Fortune 500 as a strategic consultant.

    Honestly, if I were one of these billionaires (on either side) willing to spend a hundred million to influence the election, the first ten million I would spend would be right now, to hire Nate Silver as my principal investigative consultant. Here is your office, hire a staff, and figure out how to spend this money.

    Nate Silver (and David Plouffe) brought Money Ball to politics; Romney’s loss (and the various Fox News and Republican melt-downs) is the end-of-movie wake-up call for anybody doing anything different.

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