27 August 2012

Brain Scans = Lie Detectors

The Washington Post offers a positive frame on what turns out to be non-event. The judge in the current case, like many before, won't allow MRI in the courtroom. But that doesn't stop the Post from celebrating the scanners' mantra:- 
It may sound like science fiction. But some of the nation’s leading neuroscientists, who are using the same technology to study Alzheimer’s disease and memory, say it also can show — at least in the low-stakes environment of a laboratory — when someone is being deceptive.
Notice that the newspaper devotes short shrift to critiques of the technology - two paragraphs - and casts them almost as antediluvian. Meanwhile "Alzheimer's disease" and "memory" sound serious, even though it is unclear how studying those diseases would help scientists study deception. While it is technically true, of course, mention of those terrible diseases is meant to broaden the article's interest. In this instance, they are introduced for purely rhetorical purposes. Meanwhile, it is a staple of such writing that some 'expert' will offer an obligatory version of the phrase "we now know" or "we now have data", and right on cue:
“We know what Gary’s brain looks like when he’s trying to lie,” ....And when he was answering questions about whether he killed McQueen, “it doesn’t appear the same as when he’s lying.”
Why is the rhetoric of such articles always the same? And why can't the Post author a grown-up conversation about the implication of such technologies for common-law systems and the persuasiveness of brain imagery to all audiences, not least juries!

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