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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?

“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”,

“seriously compelling.”

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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

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.

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

“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.

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

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

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

The Confidence Bias:

We give more credibility to people who appear confident.

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

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.

“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."

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.

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

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

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

This is the bias against those with anomalous facial features.

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

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.

Well-educated victims of con artists:


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