The non-partisan website FactCheck.org has a well-researched commentary on a new political advertisement in support of GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain that touts his supposed “passing” of a voice stress “test” performed by Atlanta private investigator T.J. Ward. See “Whole Truth About the Cain ‘Lie Detector.'” For additional commentary by AntiPolygraph.org on Ward’s supposed “test,” see “CBS Atlanta Falls for Bogus ‘Lie Detector.'”
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain has backed off from his declaration at a press conference convened to address allegations of sexual harassment that he was “absolutely” willing to do a lie detector test. In an interview with Neil Cavuto of Fox News, Cain conditioned his willingness to do a lie detector test on the willingness of an accuser to do so:
Cavuto: …There’s definitely a passion to your fans and your supporters. So, um, why not a lie detector test? You kind of offered for that in your press conference the other day. Um, put it out there, I’m taking a damn lie detector test. I’m gonna pass this with flying colors. Shut up.
Cain: Because, here again, why negotiate against yourself. When somebody comes forward, and they have a claim against me, and *they’re* willing to take a lie detector test, *I’ll* take a lie detector test. I’m not going to go and take one against anonymous, no documentation. That’s not good business…
Cain went on to cite the voice stress analysis performed by private investigator T.J. Ward:
Cain: …And here’s the other thing. There’s a private investigator by the name of T.J. Ward out of Atlanta, Georgia who has some sophisticated technology that a lot of people may not have heard about. He took my statement from my press conference–
Cavuto: I heard that.
Cain: –ran it through his software and was willing to go on record–because many law enforcement agencies use this software–and said, “Herman Cain is telling the truth.”
He did the same thing for this woman who accused me the other day when she was with Gloria Allred, and went through and said, “I’m sorry, but there were a lot of untruths in that statement.”
The Hinterland Gazette points out that private investigator T.J. Ward has previously worked with Cain’s newly hired attorney, Lin Wood, on the Natalee Holloway case, raising the question of whether Ward’s supposed “analysis” was part of an orchestrated public relations campaign.
On Wednesday, 9 November 2011, CBS Atlanta aired an interview with private investigator T.J. Ward, who used a computer program to analyze recorded statements by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain and Sharon Bialek, who alleges that Cain made a sexual advance on her when she sought his help getting a job. According to Ward’s software, Cain “is being truthful, totally truthful” in denying Bialek’s claim, while Bialek “is fabricating what transpired.”
Ward claimed his software cost $15,000 and has an accuracy rate of 95%. While CBS Atlanta did not disclose the name of this software, a link on Ward’s website indicates that it is Layered Voice Analysis (LVA), a program developed by Amir Liberman’s Nemesysco, Ltd., an Israeli company. This software was completely discredited by Swedish linguists Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda in a 2007 article titled “Charlatanry in Speech Science: A Problem to Be Taken Seriously” (International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, Vol. 14, No. 2). For more on LVA, see “Nemesysco Founder Amir Liberman Is a Charlatan.”
Not that it matters (LVA being pseudoscientific flapdoodle), but it is perhaps worth observing that private investigator T.J. Ward had chosen the setting for analyzing a male voice when conducting his analysis of Sharon Bialek’s remarks:
CBS Atlanta should have done its homework before running with a “news” story based on emperor’s-new-clothes technology.
Israeli lie detector company Nemesysco has issued a press release responding to Professors Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda’s article, “Charlatanry in Speech Science: A Problem to Be Taken Seriously,” which laid bare in devastating detail the pseudoscientific nature of Nemesysco’s lie detection “technology.” It should be noted that Nemesysco’s press release opens with a misleading characterization of Erksson & Lacerda’s article:
We wish to clarify our position with regard to the so-called ‘scientific research’ written by Professors Lacerda and Eriksson and published in the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law in December 2007, but later withdrawn.
In fact, the article has not been withdrawn, rescinded, or otherwise disavowed by the journal that published it. Rather, the publisher (rather cravenly, in our opinion) withdrew the on-line availability of the article in response to legal threats from Nemesysco’s lawyers. For background, including part of the correspondence between Nemesysco and the publisher, see Nemesysco Founder Amir Liberman Is a Charlatan on this blog.
The “Ministry of Truth” blog, which has been following the saga particularly as it pertains to the use of Nemesysco’s lie detection software in the United Kingdom (where it is marketed as “Voice Risk Analysis”), provides a point-by-point critique of Nemesysco’s press release.
See also Professor Lacerda’s 12 March 2009 blog entry, LVA-technology and Nemesysco’s official statement, in which he responds to an earlier released statement by Nemesysco in response to his and Professor Eriksson’s article. Continue reading Nemesysco Controversy Roundup
Dee J. Hall reports for the Wisconson State Journal that “Dr.” E. Gary Baker, the faux Ph.D. who markets what he styles a “Digital Voice Stress Analyzer” to law enforcement agencies, has lost the Jefferson, Wisconsin Police Department as a customer:
Jefferson police cancel training on voice-stress analyzer
By DEE J. HALL
The city of Jefferson Police Department has cancelled a training session on how to use a controversial voice-stress analyzer after the Wisconsin State Journal raised questions about the technology and the qualifications of the business owner scheduled to conduct the training.
Voice-stress analysis is used by some law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin, including the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, to detect “microtremors” in the voice that backers of the technology say indicates speakers are stressed and therefore answering questions deceptively.
“If everything has been exhausted in investigative techniques and they have a suspect or someone they want to eliminate as a suspect, it (CVSA) has been used,” Madson said, adding that the technology has prompted confessions from suspects. “The tool works, as far as I’m concerned.”
Detective Sergeant Tim Madson is badly misinformed. The existing peer reviewed research suggests that voice stress analyzers perform at roughly chance levels of accuracy. While these devices might be useful for scaring confessions out of naive and gullible persons, they have no scientific basis and are no more to be relied upon than a colander wired to a photocopier with a sheet of paper saying “He’s Lying” on the glass paten. Continue reading Baker DVSA Loses a Customer
Amir Liberman, the founder of Nemesysco, an Israeli company that internationally markets voice based lie detectors that simply don’t work, successfully pressured an academic journal into withdrawing the Internet availability of a peer-reviewed article that exposes Liberman’s lie detection “technology” for the pseudoscientific flapdoodle that it is.
Swedish linguists Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda co-authored an article titled “Charlatanry in Speech Science: A Problem to Be Taken Seriously” that was published in the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law (vol. 14, no. 2 ). Eriksson & Lacerda review several voice-based lie detectors, including Nemesysco’s “Layered Voice Analysis” (LVA) which the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command has purchased and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is considering adopting. A variant of LVA customized for security checkpoints has reportedly been trialled at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport.
Eriksson & Lacerda point out that so-called “thorns” and “plateaus” — characteristics of digitized voice recordings that Nemesysco claims reflect emotional states — are merely artifacts produced by the digitization process! With regard to the LVA software, Eriksson & Lacerda note:
Contrary to the claims of sophistication — ‘The LVA software claims to be based on 8,000 mathematical algorithms applied to 129 voice frequencies’ (Damphousse et al. 2007: 15) — the LVA is a very simple program written in Visual Basic. The entire program code, published in the patent documents (Liberman 2003) comprises no more than 500 lines of code. It has to be said, though, that in order for it not to be possible to copy and run the program as is, some technical details like variable declarations are omitted, but the complete program is unlikely to comprise more than 800 or so lines. With respect to its alleged mathematical sophistication, there is really nothing in the program that requires any mathematical insights beyond very basic secondary school mathematics. To be sure, recursive filters and neural networks are also based on elementary mathematical operations but the crucial difference is that these operations are used in theoretically coherent systems, in contrast to the seemingly ad hoc implementation of LVA.
Colorado television station KUSA 9News investigative reporter Jace Larson examines the use of the “Computer Voice Stress Analyzer” (CVSA) in the state:
KUSA – A device used by Colorado law enforcement agencies to identify when someone is lying, may not work and may be costing taxpayers money.
Computer Voice Stress Analyzers (CVSAs) claim to measure changes in a person’s voice that indicate a lie.
However, three recent studies say the device does not accurately tell the difference between a person lying and a person telling the truth.
CVSAs have been used by 21 law enforcement agencies in Colorado.
Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the International Association of Chiefs of
Police and the Department of Defense question the validity of CVSAs.
In 2006 a University of Florida study found CVSAs, “performed at chance-level for deception, truth and stress.” The same study went on to say, “false positive rates were high.”
Westminster Police Investigator Wayne Read doesn’t agree though. He and members of his department have used the device and swear by it.
“I know how to operate the instrument. I know how the instrument works. I don’t think I could deceive the instrument,” said Read.
Read’s belief in CVSA despite the scientific evidence against it is reminiscent of the dogged belief of polygraph operators in their own pseudoscientific form of lie detection, despite broad consensus among scientists that it has no scientific basis.
Instructors who teach law enforcement agents how to read the test agree.
“It’s not audible to the human ear,” said Ben Conrique.
Conrique works for The National Institute for Truth Verification, the company selling CVSAs.
“Voice Stress indicated whether or not a person is telling the truth,” said Conrique.
And yet the National Institute for Truth Verification admitted before a federal court that CVSA “is not capable of lie detection.”
The National Institute for Truth Verification sells each device for about $10,000.
Agencies in Colorado have spent more than $331,000 on training and equipment.
“You only spend that type of money on something that has a proven success rate,” said Conrique.
However, experts who oppose CVSAs believe the devices do not work and that they lead to false confessions by suspects.
Deputies in Maricopa County, Ariz. suspected Robert Louis Armstrong of triple murder.
They questioned him for 10 hours in 2003. After deputies told him his test showed he was lying, Armstrong confessed.
Evidence emerged later proving Armstrong was out of the state at the time of the murders and he was freed.
He sued the sheriff’s office.
9Wants to Know tried to speak with deputies in Maricopa County but they declined.
Several agencies around the county have decided to stop using the CVSAs and now rely on other methods such as a polygraph test.
Unfortunately, polygraph tests, too, are completely unreliable as a means of lie detection. They are inherently biased against the truthful, yet easily manipulated through the use of simple countermeasures. See The Lie Behind the Lie Detector for a thorough debunking.
“If you think the CVSA is going to tell you whether witnesses or suspects are telling the truth, you’re gravely mistaken,” said CVSA opponent Richard Leo.
Leo is a criminologist and professor of law at the University of San Francisco.
Leo told 9NEWS if a law enforcement agency buys this device, “You’re wasting your money and you’re wasting public money.”
“You might as well be flipping coins or reading tea leaves or reading an Ouija board,” he continued.
The following are agencies that have confirmed to 9Wants to Know that they own or have used CVSAs:
*Boulder Police Department
*Brighton Police Department
*Broomfield Police Department
*Colorado Division of Wildlife
*Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
*El Paso County Sheriff’s Office
*Englewood Police Department
*Federal Heights Police Department
*Fort Morgan Police Department
*Glenwood Springs Police Department
*Golden Police Department
*Grand Junction Police Department
*Lakewood Police Department
*Lamar Police Department
*Longmont Police Department
*Moffat County Sheriff’s Office
*Northglenn Police Department
*Sterling Police Department
*Thornton Police Department
*Westminster Police Department
*Yuma County Sheriff’s Office
For further reading and video links, see the KUSA 9News website’s feature page, The Truth About Lies. and for discussion, see the CVSA and other Voice Stress Analysis Applications forum of the AntiPolygraph.org message board.
The National Institute of Corrections has published a research study on voice stress analysis (VSA) conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services with support from the National Institute of Justice. From the abstract (emphasis added):
…The goal of this study was to test the validity and reliability of two popular VSA programs (LVA [Layered Voice Analysis] and CVSA [Computer Voice Stress Analyzer]) in a “real world” setting. Questions about recent drug use were asked of a random sample of arrestees in a county jail. Their responses and the VSA output were compared to a subsequent urinalysis to determine if the VSA programs could detect deception. Both VSA programs show poor validity – neither program efficiently determined who was being deceptive about recent drug use. The programs were not able to detect deception at a rate any better than chance….
The 128-page report, “Assessing the Validity of Voice Stress Analysis Tools in a Jail Setting” by Kelly R. Damphousse, Laura Pointon, Deidre Upchurch, and Rebecca K. Moore, dated 31 March 2007, may be downloaded from AntiPolygraph.org here (2.1 mb PDF).
In a 28 April 2007 editorial cryptically titled, “Wired Policing Stresses Voices, More,” the Daytona Beach News-Journal skewers local law enforcement agencies’ reliance on voice stress analyzers:
As the urban legend goes, police interrogating a suspect put a colander on the suspect’s head, run wires from the colander to a copy machine, make a meaningless copy, look at it, then tell the suspect he’s lying. The suspect, of course, doesn’t know the whole thing is a hoax. Frightened by the amazing lie detector, he confesses.
The legend might as well be true. Local police agencies, including the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and the Daytona Beach Police Department, use so-called “voice-stress analysis” as part of their interrogation techniques. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office plans to use it as part of its job-interview process. A study by the Defense Department has concluded that such analysis is bunk — no more reliable than the colander trick. Nevertheless, police agencies spend thousands of dollars on the equipment and justify it as a legitimate part of police work. The Daytona Beach Police Department just spent $32,000 for the equipment.
It’s the best, the most reliable voice stress-analyzer out there,” said Lt. Gorgi Colon, who, with Sgt. Paul Barnett, was tasked by Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood to research the technology. Gleaning the studies wasn’t part of the research. Calls were placed instead to the Volusia sheriff’s office and to the West Palm Beach company that manufactures the “analyzers” and dominates the field by aggressively marketing itself as the “world leader in voice-stress analysis.” As part of its marketing, the company trains individuals in agencies that buy the product.
The company’s name — the National Institute for Truth Verification — makes it sound like an academy. It isn’t. It’s a privately held company directed by Bill Endler, a retired Indiana police chief who spent four months interrogating suspects at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and in Baghdad’s Green Zone between October 2003 and January 2004. His contract there was not renewed, and the Pentagon, based on its own Department of Defense Polygraph Institute studies, distrusts the voice-stress technology. “In our evaluation,” Mitchell S. Sommers, an associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, told a university publication in 2004, “voice-stress analysis detected some instances of deception, but its ability to do so was consistently less than chance — you could have gotten better results by flipping a coin.” Sommers’ research was paid for by the Defense Department.
“What it boils down to,” Endler said, “is nothing more than a turf war. We are taking business away from them.” But the Polygraph Institute isn’t a business. It merely supervises government agencies’ use of polygraph technology, and hasn’t “accepted” voice analysis (in Endler’s word) as legitimate. It could well be a turf war. It could also be that the technology is the gimmick that the Defense Department says it is: Aside from Sommers’ study — peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal in 2006 — the research is scant. Endler also criticized the Defense Department for relying on laboratory experiments rather than actual cases of interrogation. But the Sommers study published in 2006 included “field questioning.” The results were not statistically different from scripted questioning.
Still, local agencies have no qualms about using the technology, which is inadmissible in court (whether it’s traditional lie detectors or voice-stress analysis). Volusia’s and Flagler’s sheriffs call it an added tool in law enforcement. In Flagler, the sheriff says that merely mentioning that a voice-stress analysis will be part of a job interview prevents some people from applying. But is that necessarily a good thing? Is a job interview — or a police interrogation — not inherently stressful?
Technology that makes or breaks the fate of suspects in police custody has unquestionable merit — so long as the merits are proven beyond reasonable doubt. Short of that, the technology is no more than a tool of deception itself.
Writer Ian Williams raises the question in “The New Salem Witch Trials,” a stinging commentary on the British government’s harebrained scheme to use voice stress analysis to assess the truthfulness of applicants for social welfare benefits.