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Here’s how lame our news culture is getting these days. So Fox launches this stupid-as-shit TV show called “Lie to Me” starring Tim Roth, and right away the nation’s top newspapers print little reality checks on the show’s conceit.
First, the show. Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, name partner in the Lightman Group, and goes about getting really squinty-eyed and all kinds of probing when he talks to witnesses about crimes. Then, later, at the Lightman Group’s offices, he throws video of the witness interviews onto a giant screen and schools his colleagues in the fine points of detecting lies through stray and mendacious facial expressions and body language. The show comes off as a workshop in biometrics, though I’ll confess that I failed to sit through an entire episode.
Yet the Washington Post and the New York Times have plenty of time for this pap. Over the holiday weekend, they both printed their predictable “Hey, is this really so easy?” stories, complete with the staple of daily journalism: experts.
The following expert quote comes from a Sunday piece by the Post‘s Neely Tucker: “‘Lying is ubiquitous’ in the brain, says Ruben C. Gur, one member of a team at the University of Pennsylvania that is using short films of the brain, called ‘functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging,’ to detect lies. If lies ‘were contained in one section of the brain, it would be worn out at the end of the day.'”
Tucker reaches the conclusion that reliable lie detection is pretty much impossible.
The Times takes a slightly different tack, with an expert evaluating an old CBS interview with slugger Alex Rodriguez, in which the star denied taking part in any aspect of baseball’s steroid scandal. Of course, this wasn’t just any old expert; it was Dr. Paul Ekman, the man who inspired the new Fox show.
He analyzed A-Rod’s facial maneuvers throughout that interview with Katie Couric, coming up with insights such as this one:
“The most reliable thing that he did is what we call a gestural slip,” Dr. Ekman said. Several times during his session with Ms. Couric, Mr. Rodriguez raises his left shoulder momentarily as he speaks.
“It’s a slight raise of one shoulder, a fragment that slips out of a full gesture,” Dr. Ekman said. In a full shrug, both shoulders rise, stay up, then drop.
A half-shrug can be prompted by feelings like helplessness in the face of tough questions, or a “Who, me?” response to accusations. It doesn’t square with firm denials, Dr. Ekman said.