No Lie MRI being offered as evidence in court

It has come to our attention that No Lie MRI has produced a report that is presently being offered as evidence in a court in Southern California.  A hearing about the admissibility of this evidence is imminent.

The case is a child protection hearing being conducted in the juvenile court.  In brief, and because the details of the case are sealed and of a sensitive nature, the issue is whether a minor has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a custodial parent and should remain removed from the home.  The parent has contracted No Lie MRI and apparently undergone a brain scan.  The No Lie MRI-produced report reads in part as follows:


The defense plans to claim the fMRI-based lie detection (or “truth verification”) technology is accurate and generally accepted within the relevant scientific community in part by narrowly defining the relevant community as only those who research and develop fMRI-based lie detection.  [Note: California follows its own version of the Frye test of admissibility, not the current federal test under Daubert.]

Limiting the “relevant community” to only those who research and develop fMRI based lie detection is without merit, if only because such a definition precludes effective or sufficient peer-review.  Indeed, it is arguable such a narrowly-defined community has a strong incentive to exaggerate its claims of accuracy and overlook unanswered questions for financial gain if such techniques are “legally admissible.”

The few practitioners who research and develop fMRI-based deception detection are not the only qualified people to comment on the accuracy and validity of the technique.  Statisticians familiar with Bayesian analysis, cognitive neuroscientists familiar with technical and analytical constraints, and researchers working to elucidate the neural basis of memory, decision-making, and social behavior should all make up the “relevant scientific community” for such a complex and as-yet poorly characterized technology.   Further, I suspect the community of peer-reviewers that have reviewed the articles being proffered in support of the evidence of fMRI testing on deception is probably a useful proxy for the legally relevant scientific community, and extends well beyond the handful of researchers working directly on fMRI-based deception detection.

I will post again soon with more details and criticisms about the claims in the statement produced by No Lie MRI – mainly, that their external validation task was inconclusive in the individual, yet the testing proceeded with the case-related probe questions and found to be determinative that the parent was not lying about denying sexual abuse of the child.  Further, that the repetition of three critical questions (as above) four times each seems incredibly unlikely to produce sufficient power to detect a robust neural response that could be accurately classified as deceptive/non-deceptive.

Please add your own views and suggestions, and check back for updates.

Emily Murphy

10 Responses to No Lie MRI being offered as evidence in court
  1. This is the practical problem with the Kelly/Frye test. Those offering the novel evidence will try to narrow the “relevant scientific community” to (who else?) themselves, to say that the evidence is generally accepted BY THEM. Here’s where I wish CA had something like the Michigan standard, which requires those speaking for the general acceptance of the novel technology to be disinterested. Hopefully the judge will dig deeper and realize that even in the area of brain-based deception detection, the relevant scientific (non-commercial) community does not accept NoLieMRI’s methodology (in so far as we can speculate as to what it is, based on their spotty report provided in the case above).

    Aside from the evidentiary issues, I have a serious problem (that is not specific to this technology) with custodians using expensive defense tactics such as this against children and dependents. Does the daughter (or the state) have access to similar resources? While a similar argument could be raised for all types of razzle-dazzle evidence in trials, it seems particularly egregious in a child dependency hearing – and raises questions of distributive justice.

  2. This is Amy the admitted student again . Thanks for posting.

    Teneille’s second point, about expensive defense tactics and dependents, is such a good one — I’m curious to know what kinds of protections against this sort of thing exist. I can only imagine that the problem is going to get worse and the questions more complicated as technology grows and its uses are explored. Not having studied the legal side of any of this yet, I can’t make a substantive suggestion — all I can say is, we really need to think about it and work on it ASAP.

    I also wanted to add to the list of reasons why those who research and develop fMRI-based lie detection technology can’t possibly constitute the relevant community. To my way of thinking, there is still some doubt about whether such a thing is theoretically possible in a form that would be reliable enough for this kind of use, let alone practically possible or happening in any meaningful way now — so limiting the field to those who work on it fully excludes any voices who might think it could never happen, as they wouldn’t be working in that field at all. Not only will the field likely be biased in favor of the technology at hand right now — it categorically excludes a whole category of legitimate neuroscientific voices.

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