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American Studies Seminar at Osaka University: The Lie Detector - Professor Ken Alder (Professor of History, Northwestern University) & Dr. Vera Wilde (Artist and Scientist in Residence, Netherlands)

2016-3-19 (Sat) 10:00 - 14:00

American Studies Seminar at Osaka University

Date: 19 March 2016 (Saturday)

Venue: Office for University-Industry Collaboration (Building A), Suita Campus, Osaka University (Access map) (Suita Campus Map: #47)

Session 1: 10:00-11:30 

Speaker: Professor Ken Alder (Professor of History, Northwestern University)

Title: The Lie Detector


Alder’s most recent book of history, The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession, was published by The Free Press in March 2007, with a paperback edition published by Bison Books in 2009. The book has also been translated into Japanese and Czech. The Lie Detectors traces the history of the polygraph technique in America?the sole country to make use of this method. It shows how even after it was banned from the U.S. criminal courts, the polygraph became central to the workings of the American justice system, the national security state, and the management of American corporations.  The book follows the careers and misadventures of the rival creators of the lie detector: John Larson, the nation’s first Ph.D. cop, who married the first person he tested on the device; Leonarde Keeler, the high school amateur magician, who taught cops how to use the device to extract confessions; and William Marston, who went on to invent the cartoon character, Wonder Woman. The Lie Detectors explains the public appeal of the technique as a dispassionate arbiter of public justice, while documenting how, behind the scenes, it has transformed justice into a game of bluff and bluster, becoming central to the plea bargaining system. The book uses the history of this bizarre device to examine the fraught relationship between science and justice in twentieth-century America.


1. Professor Gavin Campbell (Professor, Doshisha University)

2. Dr. Vera Wilde (Artist and Scientist in Residence, Netherlands)

3. Professor Carmen Schmidt (Professor, University of Osnabruck, Germany)

4. Toshihiro Yamanishi (Associate Professor, National Institute of Technology, Oyama College)

Session 2: 11:45-12:45

Dr. Vera Wilde (Artist and Scientist in Residence, Netherlands)大阪大学 (dissertation)

Title: Lie Detectors On Trial? Science, Security, and Accountability in the Era of the Hague Invasion Act


The continuing growth of lie detection—polygraphs and related interrogation and security screening programs—illustrates elite capture of political institutions in America today. This capture ironically undermines the very security it purports to promote, situating lie detection and other forms of mass surveillance in the realm of non-evidence-based governance that has long puzzled scholars and publics alike. But far from being bad or irrational governance, pseudoscientific security programs like lie detection are symptoms and instruments of pathologically corrupt governance. This pathology is ironic in four realms: international corruption measurements, selective U.S. export of supposed anti-corruption tools like polygraphs, budgetary non-response to increasing accountability pressures on such tools, and the broad, historical sense that corruption has always threatened collective well-being—but now that democratic publics are focused on security, they’re either missing or unable to make their governments grapple with the truly existential threats. That said, we might reasonably have some measured hopes for increased transparency and accountability, less corrupt governance, and more evidence-based policy in three realms: prosecution and prevention of high-level fraud, the potential of technology to mitigate against systematic biases, and its related potential to speed up accurate decisions in some life-or-death situations. Overall, the continuing growth of lie detection shows how collective action problems work in the era of Big Data. Just as lie detection is a lie, the so-called security state threatens global security.

Commentator: Professor Ken Alder

Lunch Workshop: 12:45-14:00

Graduate student(s) or junior scholars

Date: 2016-3-19 (Sat) 10:00 - 14:00
Organizer: Yoneyuki Sugita Lab
Sponsored: International Joint Research Promotion Program
Venue: Office for University-Industry Collaboration (Building A), Suita Campus, Osaka University
Registration: Registration is not required for this seminar.
Contact: Yoneyuki SUGITA

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