This popular police "mindreading" technique is bullshit — but the things that cops say about it are somehow even worse.

Back in December, ProPublica published a fascinating look into the snake-oil industry around Scientific Content Analysis or SCAN, a so-called "law enforcement tool" that purports to help investigators determine whether their suspects lying. This highly-profitable yet totally-dubious training method works through a rigid grammar analysis that relies entirely on the assumption that human brains only ever work in one completely uniform, logical, rational, conscious, and deliberate manner:

With SCAN, Sapir encourages the asking of a simple, open question: What happened? After the person writes a statement, the SCAN investigator looks for signs of deception, analyzing, among other things, pronouns used, changes in vocabulary, what’s left out and how much of a statement is devoted to what happened before, during and after an event. Indications of truthfulness include use of the past tense, first-person singular (“I went to the store”); pronouns, such as “my,” which signal commitment; and direct denials, the best being: “I did not do it.” Signs of deception include lack of memory, spontaneous corrections and swapping one word in for another — for example, writing “kids” in one place and “children” in another.

[…]

Sapir likens SCAN to Sudoku, only with words, not numbers, sentences, not squares: “Everything must fit — left to right, and top to bottom.”

And of course, there's no consideration for the possibility that someone might be, idunno, nervous or anxious or god forbid under-educated and therefore might respond to this "test" in ways that seem arbitrarily "suspicious."

Yet there are still tons of cops who swear by it anyway — even though, as ProPublica reveals through a comprehensive analysis of SCAN test results, the system has about a 50 percent likelihood of accurately predicting whether a suspect is lying, which is … no better than a random guess. Read the rest

Sci-Fi Sundays: Analog, December 1962

2019 started off with a rather interesting tweet from Elon Musk. He was showing off the "Starship test flight rocket" from SpaceX. This thing evokes a strong bit of imagery that has been so deeply integrated into our culture through science fiction for so many years that it just feels... right. Read the rest

New high-resolution scan of medieval Aberdeen Bestiary

The 12th-century Aberdeen Bestiary has just been digitally scanned and made available online. One of the most famous extant bestiaries, the new version includes newly-discovered details on the book's production. Read the rest

Untitled flower scan, Katinka Matson

An untitled work by Katinka Matson, via John Brockman and EDGE.org. The artist's site is here, and you can view a larger-size image here (fun to gaze at on an iPad, I think).

Update: Boing Boing reader Jennifer Forman Orth, Ph.D., who is an Invasive Plant Ecologist, says, "That's actually a scan of the seedheads of a Clematis vine. So not a flower, not anymore - already pollinated and gone to fruit. But a small technicality for that beautiful image." Read the rest