In January 2020, the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse published online an article by Marigo J. Stathis and Maria M. Marinakis purporting to show that the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA), a quack device marketed as a lie detector by the so-named National Institute for Truth Verification (NITV), is highly useful for interrogating pedophiles who use the internet in the commission of crimes, producing no false positives and a 100% confession rate from those who failed.
The authors of “Shadows into Light: The Investigative Utility of Voice Analysis with Two Types of Online Child-Sex Predators” declared to the journal that they have no conflicts of interest to report. However, an investigation by AntiPolygraph.org reveals that both the article’s primary author and the source of the data used for the study have ties to NITV that call into question the article’s credibility.
The Journal of Child Sexual Abuse is published by Taylor & Francis, who on their web page on “competing interest” or “conflict of interest” state: “Competing interests can be financial or non-financial in nature. To ensure transparency, any associations which can be perceived by others as a competing interest must also be declared.”
Stathis did not disclose that she is the recipient of the National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts’ (NACVSA’s) “Chapman Award” for an article she co-authored with James L. Chapman, who until his death in 2012 was a member of the NACVSA board of directors.
NACVSA is an arm of NITV, which has used the article Stathis co-authored with Chapman to claim in marketing copy that “according to an independent, peer-reviewed, published 18-year study” CVSA “has an accuracy rate of 98%.” However, an earlier investigation by AntiPolygraph.org revealed that the Chapman & Stathis article was published in an obscure publication of the Ukrainian government that has dubious claim to being peer-reviewed and that, in any event, the study was not based on NITV’s CVSA, but rather a different voice stress analyzer whose manufacturer went out of business some three decades ago.
In January 2013, Stathis, a resident of Maryland, gave a presentation at NITV’s Advanced Continuing Education Course in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the topic of “Current VSA Research.”
In January 2015, Stathis was again in Florida for NITV’s Advanced Examiners Conference held at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, where she was photographed with other winners of NACVSA’s Chapman Award.
In January 2017, Stathis was yet again in Florida for NITV and NACVSA’s 29th Annual Professional Development and Continuing Education Conference, where she gave a lecture. NITV’s description of the event characterizes her as a “valued member”:
Some of the highlights of the conference were lectures by valued members who have advanced knowledge in specialized areas. One such person was Marigo Stathis, a neuroscientist who co-authored a peer-reviewed field study of the CVSA with Professor James Chapman. Marigo has a deep understanding of the scientific workings of the CVSA, but she’s also great at translating the data into everyday language. Her lecture discussed the protocols of the Chapman study and described how they discovered that the CVSA has an accuracy rate of 99.69%, a precision rate of 99.67%, and a verified confession rate of 96.4 %.
In response to a request for comment, Stathis denied having a “close and continuing” relationship with NITV and affirmed that “[a]ll of [her] efforts pertaining to the ‘Shadows into Light’ article were of a pro-bono nature…”
Nonetheless, a reasonable person might conclude that Stathis’ above-documented association with NITV constitutes a conflict of interest that should have been declared.
In “Shadows into Light,” Stathis and Marinakis write that “[t]he data contained in this paper originates from a southeastern US Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, an organization that successfully uses both advanced interviewing techniques and investigative tools when eliciting disclosures.” Stathis and Marinakis do not specify which ICAC Task Force produced the data on which they rely, but AntiPolygraph.org’s investigation confirms that it is the Central Florida ICAC Task Force, and that the key person involved was former detective sergeant Jerry W. Crotty II of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Like Stathis, Crotty is a recipient of NACVSA’s “Chapman Award” (for 2015):
2015 – D/Sgt. Jerry W. Crotty II: Jerry is with the Manatee Co. Sheriff’s Office (FL) and was the recipient of the fourth annual Professor James L. Chapman Award for Excellence. He developed innovative strategies using the CVSA to protect the safety and welfare of children in Florida and elsewhere. Jerry is assigned to the Federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), and he introduced the CVSA as a screening tool during investigations of ‘Traveler and Pornography Cases.’ His efforts have resulted in more accurately determining the past predatory histories of these offenders, and also has directly led to the identification and recovery of multiple ‘live victims’ of sexual predators. As a direct result of Jerry’s innovation and creativity the CVSA has been acquired by many ICAC Task Forces across the USA, which have also adopted Jerry’s specialized interviewing approach.
In February 2018, six months after the cutoff date for Stathis & Marinakis’ data sample, Detective Sergeant Crotty “retired to avoid a demotion and discipline.” Shortly thereafter, NITV hired Crotty as “Director of Law Enforcement Operations.”
That Crotty is the source of Stathis and Marinakis’ data is confirmed by Crotty himself in an online biographical sketch:
His work is…the subject of an article published in the Journal of Child Sex Abuse, where his use of the CVSA was analyzed in online sex traveler and child porn offenders. Using this technique, he was able to recover 87 unknown live victims of child sex abuse.
Concordantly, in “Shadows into Light,” Stathis and Marinakis write, “…as a result of voice stress analysis procedures, 87 previously undiscovered live victims were identified.”
There can be little doubt but that Stathis and Marinakis’ data is based on CVSA examinations conducted primarily, and perhaps exclusively, by Jerry Crotty.
In response to a request for comment, Stathis stated, “I received the data relevant to ‘Shadows into Light’ in 2017 from a Southeastern US ICAC team that consisted of several individuals who originally approached me in 2016, none of whom was associated with or worked for any forensic or truth verification software/hardware company at that time.”
Nonetheless, a reasonable person might conclude that Stathis and Marinakis’ data source’s association with NITV constitutes a conflict of interest that should have been declared.
Stathis & Marinakis’ “Shadows into Light” is also beset by methodological flaws and omissions that make it difficult to generalize the authors’ conclusions to any other population:
- What were the total arrest figures for the ICAC unit during the relevant period?
- How many arrestees refused all interrogation?
- How many were interrogated without CVSA, and what were their admission/confession rates?
- How were the CVSA charts scored? Manually by the operator? Or automatically by the CVSA software?
- How many CVSA operators were involved? (Evidence suggests that the number is one, but the authors should have included this data point.)
Stathis and Marinakis write that “[t]his study’s de-identified raw data can be furnished upon reasonable request from the corresponding author.” In order to better understand their research findings, AntiPolygraph.org requested this data by email to the corresponding author, Marigo Stathis, on 22 July 2020 and received no reply. However, in October 2020, following AntiPolygraph.org’s request for comment for this article, Stathis wrote:
…we have appropriately considered your initial July 22, 2020 request for the study’s raw data. However, we additionally require a detailed description of how you intend to use the data. As the corresponding co-author, I will then be able to forward your request to the agencies that comprise the US ICAC task force (that generated the data) with the stated reasonable potential use of such data in order to get their consent to release the data. The latter will be contingent on having met specific criteria re a written limited rights data use agreement, with appropriate protection of the data and defined limited reasonable use.
Given that Stathis did not reply to our request for the study’s data, only addressing it more than two months later when asked for comment for this article, her claim that she needs more information to entertain our request seems disingenuous.
The late astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan famously observed that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Stathis and Marinakis’ claim that CVSA—a scientifically baseless device that NITV itself has acknowledged in court “is not capable of lie detection”—produced no false positives and a 100% confession rate from those who failed is an extraordinary claim indeed.
Regrettably, the evidence of Stathis and Marinakis’ “Shadows into Light” is murky.