Show Details

Spin Algorithm

February 27, 2006

How can you tell when a politician is telling the truth or laying on the spin? A new computer program may help.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Detecting bull from the bully pulpit. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[Audio: Nixon: "I am not a crook…"]

HIRSHON:
If Richard Nixon gave this speech today, it might have set off David Skillicorn’s spin detector. Skillicorn is a computer scientist at Queens University in Ontario, Canada. He’s developed a computer program that analyzes speech patterns for established markers of dishonesty. He tested it out on Enron emails from the height of the scandal.

DAVID SKILLICORN (Queens University, Ontario Canada):
So there’s a lot of scope here for really improving our ability to tell when people are lying:in counter-terrorism investigations, and lots of other situations where things can go wrong when people are being deceptive.

HIRSHON:
In the recent Canadian election, it found that prime minister Paul Martin used more spin than his opponents. If so, it didn’t work; he was voted out. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.