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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.


Detecting bull from the bully pulpit. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[Audio: Nixon: "I am not a crook…"]

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.

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.