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The above mouthful of letters stands for Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation Scientific Content Analysis. It also stands for gullibility and wishful thinking. Its market is the same as the Quadro Tracker and the polygraph: law enforcement, including the F.B.I. L.S.I. claims that a linguistic analysis of a written statement by a suspect will reveal

--whether the subject is truthful or deceptive 
--what information the subject is concealing, and --whether or not the subject was involved in the crime

L.S.I. boasts that "while others are out searching for physical evidence, you have already solved the case--using only the subject's own words." And with SCAN you won't have to spend hours doing "stressful interviewing", doing reverse speech analysis, or taking tedious courses in neuro-linguistic programming or "how to read any size body language." Furthermore, anyone can learn the technique in 32 hours for only $600. 

The SCAN technique is now being used by the FBI and other federal agencies; by law enforcement agencies and military agencies throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia; by bank and insurance investigators; and by private industry.*

How does SCAN work? You begin by having the subject write a statement such as the following:

On February 22, 1989, a bundle of 10's totaling 5,000.00 dollars was found in locker #3, where my cash drawer is kept. The date stamped on the straps of the bundle is that of the 31st of January 1989, on this day as on most Tuesday I am responsible for balancing the vault. At approximately 2:00 p.m. I balanced the vault. The currency is then placed in vault locker #5. If #5 is locked then the currency is placed in any open locker and locked, if I am doing the vault then I will put it in locker #3. I did not have a chance to find someone to tell them before they went to the vault. If I placed the bundle in locker #3 then it was there from the 31'st of January until it was discovered on the 22'nd of February. I had no knowledge of the missing money. I've been with this bank for more than two years and if in that time you are unaware of my trustworthiness then I suggest we need to come to some sort of agreement so this does not happen again.

You then solve the case by applying special scientific linguistic techniques to the statement. For example, you will learn that 

People who work in banks work with "currency", "bundles", etc. They do not work with "money". People cannot spend "currency" or "bundles". They can only spend "money". When the teller referred to the "missing money", she incriminated herself.*

It's really that simple. An untrained investigator might think that more evidence would be needed before going to trial. In fact, SCAN makes trials unnecessary. Guilt or innocence is so much easier to discover by analyzing words than by the old fashioned method of having to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Governor of Illinois would not have to wait for a complicated study before resuming the execution of those sentenced to death; he could do a SCAN for each of the 158 inmates on death row and have only the truly guilty executed.

The SCAN technique was the brainchild of Avinoam Sapir, who has done some work for the Jerusalem Police Department in Israel as a polygraph examiner and may even have been a member of the Mossad. Sapir has bachelor degrees in psychology and criminology, but he picked up his linguistics on the job. "He developed the SCAN technique by conducting extensive research into verbal communication, looking into the linguistic behavior used by people in communication."*

Sapir claims to know  that John Ramsey is "an abuser and knows who killed his daughter [Jon Benet]." He analyzed the CNN interview of the Ramseys done about a week after the murder of their daughter.* He knows this by Mr. Ramsey's choice of words. Sapir also claims that Magic Johnson got infected with HIV in a bisexual encounter. He knows this because Johnson never said he wasn't a bisexual, only that he wasn't a homosexual, and he said he was certain he got HIV from a woman. According to Sapir, using the word 'certain' indicates "a lack of certainty."*

I wonder if he's certain of that?

Maybe the FBI should inform the President of the United States that they have a quicker, cheaper method than the polygraph to ferret out spies and traitors in the Defense Department and related agencies.

It doesn't do much to instill faith in law enforcement when we see law enforcement officers taking classes from people they should be investigating. In their defense, law enforcers claim that things like SCAN, the polygraph and the voice stress analyzer "work." It helps them catch the bad guys because some of the bad guys are ignorant and think these things can really detect lies with some provable degree of validity. Some of the ignorant are intimidated into confessing. They "work" in the same sense that torture or extortion "work". They get the result you want some of the time.

in the name of science

Apparently, the only thing scientific about Scientific Interrogation and Scientific Content Analysis is in the names. The patterns that Mr. Sapir thinks he sees are not supported by any scientific studies. His folly has been seen before in cases like Judge Edward Jones and personology. We should write our representatives and demand that before investing any taxpayer dollars in SCAN, a prospective client ought to be required to prove that he or she has a thorough understanding of cold reading, apophenia, controlled studies, the polygraph, wishful thinking and self-deception.

In the private sector, it is buyer beware. If you've given up on graphology (too controversial) and polygraphs (too expensive and time consuming) yet want to spend your money a pseudoscientific Deception Detection Agency to find out if your spouse is cheating on you or whether a prospective employee is honest, you should be free to do so. They are waiting in line to take your money. Happy Hunting!

[thanks to Brian L. Leininger]

further reading

"Statement Analysis Scan or Scam?," by Robert A. Shearer, Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1999

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Last updated 12/09/10

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