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Letter to Mr. Greely, Scientific American

Dear Editor:

As an expert on false conviction and its causes, I’d like to answer Mr. Greely’s Forum in the 12-2010 issue of Scientific American, p. 18. As founder of THINC, I represent thousands of falsely convicted individuals who waste away in prison while culprits run amok. Their lucky escape from justice encourages than to commit more, worse crimes while we are forced to engage in endless paper wars with lawyers that almost never succeed. (Only 44/100ths percent of appeals succeed.) E.g., conviction is commonly had by the mere pointing of one finger, yet release requires proof beyond my doubt.

For these reasons alone, society is ill served by the legal community’s pleas to “go slow” and “ban nonresearch use” of fMRI lie detection technology, so we don’t “risk hurting people and tarnishing … good name(s).

The fact is, worse damage is already done and continues apace. The previous technology, DNA, proved that the legal community’s most carefully administered punishment, death sentences, is, at maximum, only 938 accurate. (See: “Broken System…” a 2000 analysis by Columbia University Prof. James Liebman.) Another study found false conviction to be quite common. (See: “Miscarriages of Justice in Potentially Capital Cases”, by Prof.s M. Radelet and H. Bedau, Stanford Law Review, vol. 90, 1987.) At least twice, judges have destroyed DNA to prevent proof of having executed innocents.

DNA technology dealt the legal community a blow from which it will never recover; objective measure of its efficacy that can not be gainsayed. FMRI lie detection is poised to deliver another, even heavier blow, in that, unlike DNA, fMRI evidence is out side control of the persons who prefer that their work remain arguable and subject to opinion rather than definitive analysis.

Commercial firms, which Mr. Greely wishes to ban, are conducting the “real world “research” that he and the legal community demand for its acceptance. To date, both Cephos corp. and No Lie MRI demonstrate higher accuracy rates than the legal community obtains from its death sentences. (978 vs 938) Also, it seems strange that the people who are most bent on saving society from the bugaboos of fMRI lie detection are the very ones who will be most constrained by it.

We innocents, who suffer most from the legal community’s refusal to accept this     science, have long thought hard on this technology and its effects, as Mr. Greely recommends. THINC and all of our members are unanimous. We see this technology completing the task that DNA only started: the wholesale repair of the justice system. The only negatives of fMRI lie detection accrue to the legal community, which, as Mr. Greely states, “…must prepare for them “, as science will not be held off forever.


James Bauhaus

Founder: THINC