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S1: Episode 19. Deception Science--Lie Detection & Bias

How does the science of lie detection and bias factor into the Michael Jackson sex abuse allegations? With an emphasis on the deceit revealed in the Leaving Neverland documentary, this episode focuses on the following questions: What does science tell us about our ability to spot a liar? What steps do deception experts recommend we take when trying to judge if a story is true? And finally, why did so many people get taken in by this film?

Quote from tv review in Variety in 2019

“Leaving Neverland offers devastatingly powerful and convincing testimony that Michael Jackson was guilty of child sexual abuse.”

The Washington Post review calls the film riveting and sharply convincing and also states the following:

“A devastating and credible Leaving Neverland will turn you off Michael Jackson for good”,

A Chicago tribune review calls the movie:

“seriously compelling.”

Reviews mentioned in the episode from viewers, noting how believable the accusers were in the documentary:

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The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It Every Time by Maria Konnikova

Konnikova says her number one piece of advice is to make us understand how bad we are at spotting a liar.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

In Gladwell's book, he explains Tim Levine's research that reveals how we are truth-biased when listening to the stories people tell in front of us.

Truth Default Theory by Tim Levine

Explains how our default is to believe people, which is important for community cohesion, but which also leaves us vulnerable to deception. His theory rejects the idea that the best way to detect deception is to watch for verbal and physical cues, which his research shows is unreliable.

Podcast featuring Levine explaining his findings on deception

Stephen Greenspan on Science Friday talking about his book, Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It

He says intelligence has nothing to do with getting duped, and that we should all not be so quick to make judgments, and do more research before trusting someone.

Greenspan's book

Ellen DeGeneres quote after Leaving Neverland aired

After the documentary was released in 2019, Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that everyone should watch the accusers in their interview with Oprah, in effect conveying her belief in the credibility of their claims.

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

Ariely says what separates honest people from not honest people is not necessarily character. It's opportunity, and he says that cheating is contagious, and that a group’s behavior will have a powerful effect on each individual.

Research showing social rejection can lead to lying to achieve financial or other undeserving gain:

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The social rejection leads people to feel entitled and a feel they deserve their ill-gotten rewards.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Kahneman explains the many biases that affect the decisions we make every day and advises to be cautious not to jump to conclusions in high stakes situations because of these biases.

Louis Theroux's tweet about Michael Jackson after watching Leaving Neverland

LA Times tv critic Lorraine Ali review from 2019

Leaving Neverland is heartbreaking and hard to watch. It’s a compelling look at childhood trauma, fame and the mechanics of pedophilia.”

New York Times commentary from Aisha Harris in 2019

“I came away from Leaving Neverland fully convinced of their stories." Harris mentions the explicit sex abuse details and the compelling love story as factors that convinced her. Leaving Neverland review by Brian Tallerico

Tallerico says the accusers spoke candidly and he focused on how the narratives make sense.

Tribalism bias

I used a slightly altered version of this definition of the Tribalism bias: "Humans evolved in the context of intense intergroup competition, and groups comprised of loyal members more often succeeded than groups comprised of nonloyal members. Therefore, selective pressures have sculpted human minds to be tribal, and group loyalty and concomitant cognitive biases likely exist in all groups."

The Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect occurs because of our bias to go with the crowd, regardless of the evidence.

Self Interest Bias

Illusory Truth Effect

The tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure.

The Confidence Bias:

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We give more credibility to people who appear confident.

Dan Birman on the importance of keeping documentaries truth-based:

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Dan Birman is a professor at the USC Annenburg School of Communication and Journalism. He is also a documentarian who has expressed his concern that documentaries will be abused in the name of entertainment, and pushes to keep documentaries truth-based, transparent, and ethical.

Kathryn Schultz New Yorker article on Making a Murderer

“We still have not thought seriously about what it means when a private investigative project, bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers—comes to serve as our court of last resort."

The Bias of Narrative Transport

Use of music and imagery to enhance the narrative transport of Leaving Neverland

Rob Agar from Collative Learning explains the music and imagery used in Leaving Neverland to pull the viewer into the story and aid in this narrative transport.

LA Times review of fictional film, Les Miserables

The movie is described as compelling and terrifyingly real, the same descriptors as used for Leaving Neverland.

Roger Ebert review of Schindler’s List

Ebert says the movie was powerful and haunting, and brought him to tears.

CBS Philly’s review of 12 Years a Slave

The movie is described as powerful, wrenching, important, and while difficult to watch at times, urgently and breathlessly compelling throughout.

Brian Tallerico in his review of Leaving Neverland, says it’s not his job to research facts, it’s his job to review movies

Anomalous is Bad Bias

This is the bias against those with anomalous facial features.

Article about the many jokes about Michael Jackson over the years, often about his appearance

A 2014 Slate study found that Jackson was the sixth-most-mentioned celebrity in all 29 years of David Letterman’s "Top Ten" lists. According to another, Jay Leno alone cracked more than 500 jokes about Michael Jackson on The Tonight Show.

According to the Pew Research Center, 1.6 million people cheat on their taxes each year

According to ETS, the organization which administers the SAT exam, over 4000 SAT tests each year are not accepted because of suspected cheating by high school students

The National Heath Care Anti-Fraud Association estimates that health care fraud costs our country about $68 billion annually

According to Federal trade commission statistics, Americans lost 300 million dollars from romance scams in 2020

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From the FBI’s elder fraud report, over 100,000 seniors were defrauded out of over a billion dollars in 2020

Cheating Bees

Even in the animal world there are cheaters. There are bees that cheat flowers out of pollination by chewing a hole in the base of the flower to get at its nectar, This eliminates the mutualism between bee and flower.

In 2019, 50% of the top 10 shows were true crime

Well-educated victims of con artists:

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