The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector

Overview

How do you trap someone in a lie? For centuries, all manner of truth-seekers have used the lie detector. In this eye-opening book, Geoffrey C. Bunn unpacks the history of this device and explores the interesting and often surprising connection between technology and popular culture.

Lie detectors and other truth-telling machines are deeply embedded in everyday American life. Well-known brands such as Isuzu, Pepsi Cola, and Snapple have advertised their products with the help of ...

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The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector

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Overview

How do you trap someone in a lie? For centuries, all manner of truth-seekers have used the lie detector. In this eye-opening book, Geoffrey C. Bunn unpacks the history of this device and explores the interesting and often surprising connection between technology and popular culture.

Lie detectors and other truth-telling machines are deeply embedded in everyday American life. Well-known brands such as Isuzu, Pepsi Cola, and Snapple have advertised their products with the help of the "truth machine," and the device has also appeared in countless movies and television shows. The Charles Lindbergh "crime of the century" in 1935 first brought lie detectors to the public’s attention. Since then, they have factored into the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas sexual harassment controversy, the Oklahoma City and Atlanta Olympics bombings, and one of the most infamous criminal cases in modern memory: the O. J. Simpson murder trial. The use of the lie detector in these instances brings up many intriguing questions that Bunn addresses: How did the lie detector become so important? Who uses it? How reliable are its results? Bunn reveals just how difficult it is to answer this last question. A lie detector expert concluded that O. J. Simpson was "one hundred percent lying" in a video recording in which he proclaimed his innocence; a tabloid newspaper subjected the same recording to a second round of evaluation, which determined Simpson to be "absolutely truthful."

Bunn finds fascinating the lie detector’s ability to straddle the realms of serious science and sheer fantasy. He examines how the machine emerged as a technology of truth, transporting readers back to the obscure origins of criminology itself, ultimately concluding that the lie detector owes as much to popular culture as it does to factual science.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Psychologist Bunn's first book is an account of the social factors and criminological discourse that led to the creation of the lie detector, a device "deeply embedded in the North American psyche." The majority of the book is an expertly constructed narrative detailing the "sustained dialogue between science and the wider culture" in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries that gave rise to the idea of detecting falsehood as a means of identifying criminals. This narrative's extensive cast of characters includes bickering psychologists, charismatic and sensationalist leaders, and a woman whose skepticism of the sexist criminal anthropology of the 19th-century brought about the first instance in which physiological changes were used to detect deception in people. Bunn (coeditor, Psychology in Britain: Historical Essays and Personal Reflections) ultimately argues that the lie detector did not have a proper inventor, but was rather conceived of in the detective fiction of the 1910s. Those looking for a general history of the lie detector or the details of its function will be disappointed, but those interested in a history of American society's relationship with truth, deception, and its detection will be enlightened. (June)
Midwest Book Review

Any with an interest in criminal justice or general social issues will find this a compelling account.

History of Science Society - Ken Adler

To paraphrase Dragnet, there are many histories to tell of the lie detector; this is a good one.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Geoffrey C. Bunn is a senior lecturer in psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University and coeditor of Psychology in Britain: Historical Essays and Personal Reflections.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Plotting the Hyperbola of Deception 1

Chapter 1 "A thieves' quarter, a devils den": The Birth of Criminal Man 7

Chapter 2 "A vast plain under a flaming sky": The Emergence of Criminology 30

Chapter 3 "Supposing that Truth is a woman—what then?": The Enigma of Female Criminality 51

Chapter 4 "Fearful errors lurk in our nuptial couches": The Critique of Criminal Anthropology 75

Chapter 5 "To Classify and Analyze Emotional Persons": The Mistake of the Machines 94

Chapter 6 "Some of the darndest lies you ever heard": Who Invented the Lie Detector? 116

Chapter 7 "A trick of burlesque employed... against dishonesty": The Quest for Euphoric Security 134

Chapter 8 "A bally hoo side show at the fair": The Spectacular Power of Expertise 154

Conclusion: The Hazards of the Will to Truth 174

Acknowledgments 193

Notes 195

Essay on Sources 237

Index 241

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