The heart of the kavanaugh hearing is our false confidence – fabius maximus website

Summary: The media overflows with people’s confident evaluations of who told the truth at the Kavanaugh hearing. They are the bottom line of the spectacle, whose result will help shape America for many years. Unfortunately, people are not good lie detectors (neither are lie detectors). Again we show our disinterest in science and facts. This habit will not end well for us. ID 3331542 © Slyadnyev Oleksandr | Dreamstime.

“While interviewing the suspect who claims ignorance about an incident, the witness who saw it happen, or the informant who identified the perpetrator, the detective asks a question that will eviscerate the perpetrator’s story. As the suspect prepares to answer, he looks up and to the left, purses his lips, tenses his eyelids, and brings his eyebrows down.


“The investigator knows that a suspect displaying shifty eyes and gaze aversion and looking up and to the left when answering uncomfortable questions is exhibiting signs of lying. The suspect is not totally disinterested, but he is reluctant to participate in the interview. Because the suspect’s behavior suggests dishonesty, the detective prepares to drill still deeper in the questioning.

“As the best researchers can tell, and in my own experience as an FBI Special Agent (now retired), detecting deception is very difficult. Every study conducted since 1986, when the famed researcher Paul Ekman first wrote about this, has demonstrated that we humans are no better than chance at detecting deception …. That means that if you toss a coin in the air you will be as likely to detect deception as the truth. …

“I have listened to jurors post trial comment that they thought a witness was lying because they had ‘heard somewhere that if you touch your nose you are lying.’ Likewise I have talked to many a law enforcement officer who is convinced that they are experts at detecting deception. They have deluded themselves that they are, as have judges and other professionals. In fact, every time I hear Judge Judy (of TV fame) say, ‘I know you are lying,’ I cringe (unlike us she is covered by judicial privilege in saying what she wishes, the rest of us would be sued for slander). …

“Starting in 1971, when I first started studying the subject, I have heard of claims of individuals being able to detect deception based on behavior such as when someone avoided eye contact, looked up and to the right, touched their lips while speaking, cleared their throat, or displayed micro expressions. Instructors both in law enforcement and even researchers came in and lectured us young FBI agents about deception armed with videos of someone who touched their nose or covered their mouth when lying, or they showed signs of contempt as if that were scientific proof of deception.

“They were wrong and they were also incorrect in insisting that they were right; an anecdotal vignette of a person as they perform a behavior when lying is not science. It is interesting, but it is not science nor is it reliable. There are other times when the person uses the same behavior merely to relieve or reduce stress based on circumstances (e.g., in a police interview or the person is worried about getting to work late during a stressful traffic stop) and they are not lying but those are never shown. …

“Studies suggest that people are about 45 to 60% accurate in spotting lies – in fact, very close to chance, which would be 50%. One study comparing the ability of different professional groups to detect lies found that the police were no better than ordinary people in identifying who was lying, although they were confident that their judgments were better. In another US study involving secret service agents, psychiatrists, judges, robbery investigators, FBI polygraphers and college students, the only group to score significantly above chance in detecting lies were the secret service agents. In all groups, the subjects’ self-assessment of their skill at lie detection bore no relation to their actual score.

There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly paid senior leaders of our political, non-profit, and business institutions. They are cool and unsympathetic, seeing the hearings purely in terms of power – a struggle for control of the undemocratic core of our political system (nine people with lifetime terms, with vast and ill-defined authority).

There is the outer party of managers, small business owners, and professionals. They want simple stories that explain events in terms of good guys and bad guys. Cheer our team! Thrill at tales of the bad guys’ dastardly deeds! They want stories that provide entertainment and catharsis plus a sense of belonging to a community (a virtual tribe). Politically ineffectual, they want to believe themselves engaged. So they consume information (becoming well-informed) and write posts or comments (21st C letters to the editor). The Kavanaugh hearings were crafted to appeal to them.

“With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court has never before been more central in American life. It is the nine justices who too often now decide the controversial issues of our time – from abortion and same-sex marriage, to gun control, campaign finance and voting rights. The Court is so crucial that many voters in 2016 made their choice based on whom they thought their presidential candidate would name to the Court. Donald Trump picked Neil Gorsuch—the key decision of his new administration. The next justice – replacing Anthony Kennedy – will be even more important, holding the swing vote over so much social policy. Is that really how democracy is supposed to work?

“Based on exclusive interviews with the justices and dozens of their law clerks, Kaplan provides fresh details about life behind the scenes at the Court – Clarence Thomas’s simmering rage, Antonin Scalia’s death, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s celebrity, Breyer Bingo, the petty feuding between Gorsuch and the chief justice, and what John Roberts thinks of his critics.

“Kaplan presents a sweeping narrative of the justices’ aggrandizement of power over the decades – from Roe v. Wade to Bush v. Gore to Citizens United, to rulings during the 2017-18 term. But the arrogance of the Court isn’t partisan: Conservative and liberal justices alike are guilty of overreach. Challenging conventional wisdom about the Court’s transcendent power, The Most Dangerous Branch is sure to rile both sides of the political aisle.”