Dr. Gene Dorio | A Jury of Lie Detectors

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

A trial by a jury of your peers does not mean they will reach the correct conclusion of innocence or guilt. When serving on a jury, you are asked to be a lie detector, which is challenging.

Registering to vote obligates one to answer the call of duty when the jury summons arrives in the mail. I have responded many times, been chosen on a jury four times, and was once selected as jury foreperson. However, some have such a strong aversion to serving on a jury that they won’t register to vote.

Juror experience in the past could have been better, so in the 1990s, each county in California convened a group to improve the system to provide suggestions to the state. I was involved in that county process.

Our suggestions included a quiet, isolated area to sit — as we previously sat or stood in courthouse hallways — a refrigerator to store our lunches, and the ability to communicate with family and use computers. Judges gave introductory remarks and expressed appreciation to jurors, and thereafter, the overall inconvenience of being on a jury was made more palatable.

As a doctor, sometimes you have to listen carefully to determine if a patient’s pain rises to the level of prescribing narcotics, or judge the severity of injury in worker’s comp cases. Physicians must be lie detectors and be acutely aware that some patients might exaggerate their symptoms for personal benefit.

Still, ultimately, serving on a jury involves the difficult task of being a lie detector.

We live in a world of unknowns, including differentiating between truth and lies. Sometimes, this starts in science fiction through the minds of writers like Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Issac Asimov, H.G. Wells, or Rod Serling before moving into real science. Some unknowns are sometimes found in challenges we see in medicine.

For example, what is Lou Gehrig’s disease? The New York Yankee player died in 1941, but we still don’t know the cause nor have a treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Therefore, one must ask, do we have the scientific tools to detect if someone is lying? Maybe.

The polygraph test has been touted and even called a “lie detector.” How effective is it? We don’t know, but its results are sometimes admissible in court. How accurate is it? Since it is open to human interpretation, a polygraph test is probably not very reliable to determine if someone is lying.

Let me introduce you to the fMRI. Most people know what an MRI is: It is typically an image of a body structure like the brain. An fMRI is a “functional” MRI, meaning it is a video of the brain as processes take place, like thinking. Can it be used as a lie detector?

For over a decade, fMRI has been touted as another tool that might be up to the task. Even in California, we had a company called “No Lie fMRI,” whose idea was to scan the brain while asking questions and see if it could detect someone lying. Does it work? It was not admissible in court.

Both the polygraph and fMRI tests have limitations. But what if they were used simultaneously in questioning? Would the sensitivity increase in detecting a lie more than if they were used separately? What would Ray Bradbury have said? 

So far, I am still looking for data where the two tests were done simultaneously, so scientists involved in these studies might want to consider this possibility. This might carry us from the sci-fi world of “What if …” into the real world.

What if a court could use this tool to determine if a defendant is lying? Guess what? Eventually, we would not need judges or lawyers to obtain a verdict. “Did you steal that car? Or shoot that gun?” would be answered by the scanner. Plus, it would probably eliminate receiving a jury summons in the mail, and more of us might register to vote.

What if we could miniaturize these scanners and wear them like a “GoPro”? Any conversation we might have could reveal if the person we are talking with is lying. Wow! Whether it be your boss, spouse, the IRS, or a politician, you will know if it is the truth. H.G. Wells would be proud.

It would be “traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind,” as Rod Serling would say.

Would the world be a better place? 

We’ll let science fiction writers write about that.

Dr. Gene Dorio


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