Broward News

Bullsh*t Inc? West Palm Firm Pursuing Monopoly on the Truth

Back in the 1990s, there was a fad for "voice stress analysis" as a way of detecting lies and solving mysterious crimes. The technology was supposed to be superior to the traditional polygraph, and a West Palm Beach company was at the vanguard of the trend: the National Institute for Truth Verification.

Don't you just love the Orwellian name? But is the Institute for Truth telling the truth about its contraption's efficacy?

Based on a few independent studies: no. But that hasn't seemed to have hurt business for the institute.

The National Institute for Justice took two leading voice stress analysis devices into the field -- including one by our local firm -- and found that they can detect a fib about 50 percent of the time -- a rate that makes the $10,000 devices exactly as effective as a penny.

Other studies have come to the same conclusion.

The Institute for Truth Verification prefers to tout a more favorable batch of studies. I called the institute's headquarters but was told there was no one available to talk to me about voice stress analysis.

The devices would seem a tough sell, but the institute claims they're used in 1,700 law enforcement agencies nationwide, including 147 in Florida. Unfortunately, it doesn't say exactly which agencies or I'd happily phone them to get a firsthand report.

The efficacy of voice stress analysis has been a topic of debate as recently as last week, in Groveport, Ohio. The suburban Columbus town recently canceled its deal with a rival manufacturer and gave its business to the National Institute for Truth.

That article contains some brutal testimony:

"They do not work," said Mitchell Sommers, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who studied voice-stress devices for the U.S. Department of Defense.

"I'd love for them to work, and I think they have the potential to work someday, but for the first year (of research), I just went around with my mouth open, thinking, 'Why on Earth are you using this?'"

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Thomas Francis