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United States Idle Science

DHS To Use Body Odor As a Lie Detector 206

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-can-smell-the-truth dept.
The US Department of Homeland Security is studying lies, damned lies, and smells. They hope to prove that human body odor could be used to tell when people are lying. The department says they are already "conducting experiments in deceptive behavior and collecting human odor samples" and that the research it hopes to fund "will consist primarily of the analysis and study of the human odor samples collected to determine if a deception indicator can be found."
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DHS To Use Body Odor As a Lie Detector

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  • First they hire a Microsoft dude, then they start smelling people.

  • by Swift Kick (240510) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:00AM (#27164749)

    It breaks the main page.
    C'mon, it's not that hard to resize it before posting.

  • All they need to collect the samples is already at hand.

    Before you say Congress may help, no chance. The rarest resource on the planet is politician sweat.

    • Re:Should be cheap! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:17AM (#27164891) Journal

      >>>All they need to collect the samples is already at hand.

      It just dawned on me. Collecting "scent samples" is the same thing the East German government did. For every citizen. Is Homeland Security taking us down that same road?

      • Beanz meanz fartz (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:29AM (#27164999) Journal
        If they want odour, let them have it, full throttle. Eat chilli beans with garlic and cream cheese (or whatever supercharges your afterburner) a few hours before boarding a flight.
        "I fart in your general direction! In fact, I fart uncontrollably in all directions!"
        • If they want odour, let them have it, full throttle. Eat chilli beans with garlic and cream cheese (or whatever supercharges your afterburner) a few hours before boarding a flight. "I fart in your general direction! In fact, I fart uncontrollably in all directions!"

          I seriously wonder if you could be denied onto a flight because of having uncontrollable flatulence. Only one way to find out...

          • Re:Beanz meanz fartz (Score:5, Informative)

            by jimicus (737525) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @10:20AM (#27166427)

            You can be denied entry onto a flight for any reason whatsoever - even "the security inspector x-raying your hand luggage didn't get laid last night".

          • by jamstar7 (694492)

            I seriously wonder if you could be denied onto a flight because of having uncontrollable flatulence. Only one way to find out...

            I dunno, were you given a grant to check the feasibility of weaponising your farts? If so, then probably...

        • If they want odour, let them have it, full throttle. Eat chilli beans with garlic and cream cheese (or whatever supercharges your afterburner) a few hours before boarding a flight.

          I have a picture of a middle-aged man, sitting in a cramped airliner and giggling uncontrollably every few minutes whilst his seatmates grow more green by the second...

      • Yes, but that was a different reason. And pointless too.

        They took "smell samples" from prisoners, to track them down with dogs. What they didn't know (or didn't want to know, you'll never be sure) was that dogs don't really track using the scent of the "game", they follow the trail it leaves on the ground until late in the hunt. And by the time the dogs are close enough to pick the target out by scent, you can use visual identification (i.e. see him).

        In total, a huge load of bullcrap. In other words, fits n

        • by silentsteel (1116795) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @09:04AM (#27165333)

          Um, no. Every creature on earth has an unique scent. Scent will actually come out of a human being, or other "game" in cone shaped form. This is why search and rescue units will work a patch of land moving in the expected cone shape (based on what the dog picks up) when trailing a victim in a search. I have done search and rescue and that is the logic they use because it works. The first thing they do when a new volunteer comes on is show them how it works. Tracking, what you were referring to, also uses the same concept but, with the individual scent being left by brushing against the ground itself.

          In a nutshell, this scares the hell out of me.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by silentsteel (1116795)

            For those that are wondering why this would scare me, coming from the perspective of search and rescue: Well-trained dogs who get the scent from something that the person they are searching for was physically touching at some point recent to the search, will hit on that person 999 times out of 1000. The prospect of a scent being put into a database to be pulled out by an algorithm leaves the possibility that there could be massive error before a dog ever gets to scent off of the sample. Or they could use

      • by russotto (537200)

        It just dawned on me. Collecting "scent samples" is the same thing the East German government did. For every citizen. Is Homeland Security taking us down that same road?

        ROTFL. Welcome to the world most of us have been living in since late 2001 (official tinfoil-hat wearing paranoids longer than that). The major consolation is that Homeland Security will never be as competent as the Stasi.

        (unless they're faking the blundering appearance to conceal a well oiled oppression machine.... naa, that's too paranoi

  • by Ronald Dumsfeld (723277) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:10AM (#27164821)

    Hello, is that an armpit hoover? Or are you just pleased to see me?

    I always make an effort to shower or bathe before I have a flight, especially if it is long-haul.

    Now, I don't particularly care for the idea of a 'lie-sniffer', as it is just more tin-foil-hattery from leeches who can demand government funding to 'fight teh terrorists'. However, if they keep the guy that is a couple of hundred pounds overweight, and hasn't washed for a week, off the plane - I'll be happy.

  • Best reply (Score:5, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:14AM (#27164863) Journal

    "I take the 5th amendment" or "I choose to remain silent"

    Don't give the government anything, else they will use it later to entrap you or jail you. The right to free speech also includes the right to be quiet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by howardd21 (1001567)
      That is great if you have time to be escorted to the security area for further questioning and investigation, but they are not going to let you get on a plane with that answer.
      • >>>they are not going to let you get on a plane with that answer.

        And that's one of the key reasons I don't fly (unless I'm going a long distance). It's too damned inconvenient. I'd rather just drive my own car, which gives me lots of legroom, lots of space for luggage, and my own personal stereo system for music or books-on-ipod listening.

        Example: My coworkers flew from OKC to Minneapolis. I drove. They left home at 6 am and arrived at their hotel at 5 pm. I arrived about an hour later, but di

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Shakrai (717556)

          Give me the freedom/comfort of a car any day.

          Be careful, some of our more extremist friends on the left want to take that freedom away from you too. We should tax gasoline until it's $5/gal and force everybody to ride mass transit that may or may not exist, don't you know?

        • I can understand the hassles of using the public airplane, but driving for ~11 hours is madness. There is no way one can convince me that you arrived in better shape then your coworkers, and at least driving for that much time is frankly extremely boring (can't sleep/surf/whatever at the time) and dangerous (fatigue etc).

          • I can understand the hassles of using the public airplane, but driving for ~11 hours is madness. There is no way one can convince me that you arrived in better shape then your coworkers, and at least driving for that much time is frankly extremely boring (can't sleep/surf/whatever at the time) and dangerous (fatigue etc).

            .. for you. Everyone's limits are different. I do the same thing, and arrive much less stressed than my colleagues even if more tired.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          And that's one of the key reasons I don't fly (unless I'm going a long distance). It's too damned inconvenient. I'd rather just drive my own car, which gives me lots of legroom, lots of space for luggage, and my own personal stereo system for music or books-on-ipod listening.

          I'm so glad I"m not the only one who does this - co-workers look at me like I'm crazy when I say I'm driving instead of flying (up to 12-14 hours is my 'reasonable limit').

          Between the hassle of "security", the cramped seats designed for people 6 inches shorter than me, the noise, being treated like cattle and the hundred other little things that make flying absolutely detestable... it's worth an extra couple-few hours of my time to enjoy my travel in comfort. I do take a mid- to high-end rental though, in

    • Better yet, choose to remain silent but deadly.
    • "I take the 5th amendment" or "I choose to remain silent"

      Just don't slip up and say, "I choose to remain silent but deadly."

      On the plus side, "He who smelt it dealt it" is now a valid legal defense when accused of terrorism based on smell alone.

  • After all, it would be nice to be able to say that Office Depot's policy of lying to customers literally STINKS! [slashdot.org]

    So how are they going to calibrate this?

    Your Stink-o-Lie-Meter
    1. Kid with hand in cookie jar
    10. Madoff with hand in cookie jar
    66. Used car salesman
    666: Bush "They Have WMDs" salesman
    2. "No, the dress doesn't make you look fat."
    0. "It's not the dress."
    9. "It's not the dress, and I ENJOY sleeping on the couch!"
    4. It's a bug (it's not a "bug" - it didn't crawl in on its' own volition - fess up and admit you made a mistake).
    40. It's a feature.
    0. "They're real." (It's none of your business, Jack!)
    9. "I didn't forget your birthday."
    500. "We have a plan to deal with the current financial crisis" - ANY POLITICIAN - we KNOW you're just making this sh*t up as you go along.
    499. "Bankruptcy is not an option." - GM head honcho Ron Wagoner

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      99999 - "*I* *did* *not* *have* sexual relations with *that* *woman*!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        99999 - "*I* *did* *not* *have* sexual relations with *that* *woman*!"

        So you think that Clinton's lie about a blowjob was more than 150 times as bad as Bush's lie about WMDs?

        Dear God.

    • Certainly, it is ridiculous and a waste of money. However if it did work, would the cake smell like a lie?
  • A pack of dogs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mc1138 (718275) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:15AM (#27164877) Homepage
    Just looking to smell the fear on you. Will it be able to tell if someone is actually lying or just really nervous that they're being questioned by a federal agency?
    • Re:A pack of dogs (Score:4, Informative)

      by IWannaBeAnAC (653701) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:22AM (#27164935)
      Will they care? The primary motivation is arrest statistics, and acting nervous infront of a federal agent is, by itself, probably enough for that.
    • Re:A pack of dogs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yttrstein (891553) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:32AM (#27165021) Homepage
      It won't be able to reliably tell anything about anyone, except perhaps that they were a little bit nervous about something, just *exactly* the same way current lie detectors do.

      The problem with lie detection, as quite a number of people have said endlessly over the years, is that the assumption is made that a lie is something that somehow the body has a physiological problem with. Clearly this is swan songs of morality, as amorphous and dynamic as they are, being applied directly to the human nervous system, and somehow people are surprised to discover that there hasn't been a lie detector in the world that's been proven unquestionably to work at all.
      • by olddotter (638430)

        The problem with lie detection, as quite a number of people have said endlessly over the years, is that the assumption is made that a lie is something that somehow the body has a physiological problem with. Clearly this is swan songs of morality, as amorphous and dynamic as they are, being applied directly to the human nervous system, and somehow people are surprised to discover that there hasn't been a lie detector in the world that's been proven unquestionably to work at all.

        That is a very insightful comment. Apparently these people don't read the research papers that imply that learning to lie, and detect lies in others is part of the driver for human intelligence. But of course that requires you to believe in evolution....

    • Same as always (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aepervius (535155) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:34AM (#27165041)
      Polygraph, and other assorted gadget do NOT detect lie. Ever. What they possibly detect is stress, (fear and its little cousin nervousness for example) which in some case may or may not be correlated to a lie. It is all based on putting the idea that "it works" in the mind of people it tests, and indeed sometimes law enforcement get confession from people (they CAN use the confession but may not use any lie detector crap, and recently even that was put under fire). There isn't really a good scientific background on it The Lie behind the lie detector [antipolygraph.org].

      Using odor instead of breathing heart beat and so on will not bring anymore science is this than pissing into a violin and expecting a concerto.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Lie detectors of all types detect if you think you are lying and are stressed by this more than you were in the "control" part of the test ....

        So if a lie is detected you could be
        a) lying
        b) think you are lying, but mistaken
        c) more stressed for other reasons

        and if a lie is not detected you could be
        a) telling the truth
        b) think you are telling the truth, but mistaken
        c) as stressed for other reasons as in the control

      • ...than pissing into a violin and expecting a concerto.

        I think Phillip Glass tried that...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hoplite3 (671379)

        It's also worth noting that the lie detector has been involved in securing many FALSE confessions. DNA evidence later exhonerates the poor soul, but the lie detector was an important part of convincing him to sign the confession.

        It's not just that the like detector is unscientific, it's that it is used to railroad people into confessing, rather than finding the truth.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheSpoom (715771) *

        The DHS doesn't care. They just want a pseudoscience that can be used to detain people who don't do what they want.

      • Hmm. Well, you could be right. I have an idea, though.

        Lets test it! We'll use this lie detector method on congress, the supreme court, and the president. Any time they're acting in their official capacity, they have to wear the lie detector rig (or stand next to it if it is too big), and it'll have a big red light that lights up every time it detects a lie.

        If this thing is good enough to use in criminal cases, it is certainly good enough to use to help ensure that the electorate isn't being lied to, right?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        If the suspect thinks it works, it mgiht be useful for that reason alone.

        Police put the words "He's lying" in a copy machine, and stuck a colander with some wires on a suspect's head, and pressed the copy button whenever they thought he was lying - and got him to confess!

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday March 12, 2009 @09:06AM (#27165355)
      How can you doubt our national intelligence agencies when they have "intelligence" right in their name?!?!? I predict this will be their most effective law enforcement and intelligence tool since the U.S. government created the Stargate Project [wikipedia.org]. It's tax dollars well spent!
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:21AM (#27164927)
    This stuff about body odour is clearly an attack on the French.

    Since France is about to join NATO (which of course they call OTAN) this could lead to serious diplomatic incidents.

    "You, Sir, are a dirty liar! The machine says so!"

    "Sale espece de cochon, I have simply had snails in garlic with a bottle of Burgundy for lunch."

  • Brazil and Argentina have historical disputes over who is the "best" on South America. Obviously it leads to some funny jokes on either side.

    One closely related to USA auto induced paranioa state of mind says that an "argentino" and a "brasileiro" found a lamp. The argentino rubbed the lamp first but the brasileiro hold the lamp for him to do it. A genius emerged and saw the problem immediately: he could not grant 3 wishes, one of them would get 2 wishes and other 1. So he granted 2 wishes, one for each of

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      That joke makes me very sad. I have a genius IQ, and yet I can't grant wishes.
      • by neomunk (913773)

        It's a rare "genius" indeed that doesn't comprehend that English isn't the Universal First Language.

        Self-proclaimed geniuses that are actually arrogant average folk who are smart only when compared to their dumbass friends are a dime-a-dozen however.

        Just something to think about.

    • by Shakrai (717556)

      when USA is the most common attacker or influencer on all wars from World War II and later.

      How was the USA the "most common attacker or influencer" in WW2 when we remained completely neutral until 1940 (destroyers for bases) and didn't actually enter the war until attacked (Pearl Harbor)?

      • by mdm-adph (1030332)

        Just to play devil's advocate... it's called "lend-lease" and "naval blockades." Continue.

        • by Shakrai (717556)

          Just to play devil's advocate... it's called "lend-lease" and "naval blockades." Continue.

          Neither of which started until 1941. Destroyers for bases actually predated both of those in 1940 which is why I mentioned it. You'll note that the war started in 1939. So once again, please explain to me how America influenced the outbreak of WW2.....

    • by russotto (537200)

      USA is almost asking for problems when they think all the world want to attck them when USA is the most common attacker or influencer on all wars from World War II and later.

      Let's see. WWII... main attackers and influencers were Japan and Germany. The US did a lot of attacking late in the war and quite a lot of influencing earlier, but it takes some serious revisionism to put the US ahead of the two main Axis powers. Korea started with an invasion of the US-backed South by the North. Vietnam started as

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by fmachado (89905)

        Ok, let me explain some things: yes, I used genius word wrongly, should be "genie" (in portuguese they are translated to the same word, sorry).

        Second: about USA position as being the bigger influencer and/or attacker since WWII. Can you just count WWI as 1 conflict and count all big conflicts that happened from WWII up to today? I was trying to say that almost every conflict from 1945 to now has USA deeply entrenched or playing behind curtains. Say Vietnan, Korea, Iraq (2 times), Israel, Lebanon (helping Is

  • [Prof. Farnsworth is searching for Terrorists with his Smelloscope]

    Leela: Anything yet, professor?

    Professor Hubert Farnsworth: I'm afraid the Smelloscope can't locate the terrorist. His fragrance is too mild. It's being overwhelmed by local sources.

    [Everyone looks at DHS Goon Zoidberg]

    DHS Goon Zoidberg: Hooray! Now I'm the center of attention.

  • what next, phrenology?

    phlogiston?

  • by George Maschke (699175) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @08:55AM (#27165215) Homepage
    As the co-founder of a website dedicated to exposing and ending waste, fraud, and abuse associated with supposed "lie detectors," I think this project stinks. It's redolent of the old East German secret police -- the Stasi -- who maintained a "smell register" of dissidents. For a short video commentary, see Smellograph [youtube.com].
    • by mdm-adph (1030332)

      Didn't they keep their "smell register" for use in tracking people with dogs, though?

      • That was the idea. But it wasn't a particlarly good or useful one. If you look at the article in the original post, you'll see that a secondary aspect of the DHS study (beyond lie detection) is to try to identify "odor fingerprints" by which individuals can be identified.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dargaud (518470)

      the Stasi who maintained a "smell register" of dissidents

      It's visible in use in the excellent and highly recommended film The lives of others [imdb.com].

  • ... There's the smell they are looking for.

  • Jerry, just remember: It's not a lie if you believe it.
  • by MrNemesis (587188) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @09:20AM (#27165543) Homepage Journal

    This is just precious - the Stasi in the GDR (east germany to most) did exactly the same thing with their suspects.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,484561,00.html [spiegel.de]
    http://scent-lab.blogspot.com/2008/07/body-odor-preserved-and-exhibited-at.html [blogspot.com]

    People being interrogated would frequently be asked to sit with their palms face down on a piece of cloth, usually stuck to the chair. After the interrogation, the cloth would be removed and placed in a jar for later analysis. I don't believe it's ever been admissible as evidence in any western court, but that's obviously what the whole DHS "proof" is all about.

    Quite why one would invest so many resources in this when fingerprints and DNA are already reliable forms of identification I don't know, and I strongly suspect that the "indicator" of deception will be flawed for much the same reasons the results of a polygraph are flawed - I can understand how someone who's stressed might well emit a different sort of sweat than someone who's just hot, but trying to define a "liars sweat" reeks (hohoho) of pseudoscience to me.

    Who knows, maybe there's something in it, maybe the article is making too much of things, maybe I've got my paranoid hat on. But it still seems worryingly like the whole "this man is the serial killer cos his writing is all weird" argument to me.

    • by will_die (586523)
      The Stasi did it for dog tracking. If you went on the run they had an sample stored in air tight jars that could be used by the dogs to hopfully track you.
    • by Reziac (43301) *

      I think it's because if they can "reliably" tie odors to certain behaviours (lying, terrorism, viewing kiddie porn, whatever) then they can justify snooping *everyone* with the appropriate detector, be that technological or just a dog trained to look for certain odors. (But remember, a dog can look for multiple signatures at once, and can distinguish overlays, by the nature of their olfactory equipment.)

      However, as the article notes, what odor markers your body emits is greatly dependent on your diet and en

  • Truth (Score:4, Funny)

    by bartoku (922448) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @09:22AM (#27165561)
    The new fragrance by Calvin Klein.
  • by Intron (870560) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @09:22AM (#27165575)
    If they have enough money to do this project, why haven't we cut their budget yet?
    • by Rob Kaper (5960)

      If they have enough money to do this project, why haven't we cut their budget yet?

      Because government controls the masses, not the other way around.

  • the French, Hatians, and Quebecois are all liars.

  • They won't use this on flights back from Vegas. All the cheating husbands and wives that over gambled their nest egg and just got done lying to said spouse on the phone will gum up the system. "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" has a whole new meaning when you aren't allowed to board your flight home.
  • As if the "hit" Fox show Lie to Me weren't bad enough fiction, we're hit with this silly story. Lie detector tests are not always accurate and use much more elaborate measurements of the human body. What's next, the government is going to bring in Phil Helmuth to start reading criminals' tells?
  • by Dunbal (464142)

    to determine if a deception indicator can be found.

          The only lie is the headline.

  • All these things do is detect agitation, arousal, stress, illness, ambient climate, backache, annoyance and occasionally lies.

    Any of these external factors could be caused by any number of reasons - most of which are present in spades at an airport. Maybe the first place to use them would be on the contractors who will make the money from selling this turkey to the government:

    Question: "does it work?"

    Detected answer: "no of course not"

    • Logic fail. If it didn't work, they wouldn't get the right answer. ;)

      Kind of like evaluating "This statement is false."

  • research it hopes to fund "will consist primarily of the analysis and study of the human odor samples collected to determine if a deception indicator can be found."

    I think it's pretty certain that such indicators will be found, at least initially. They probably don't exist, or if they do, they probably will be about as reliable as today's polygraphs (ie, not at all). But they will be found nevertheless, for the simple reason that no indicators means no more money.

  • >"Proof of Concept"...was the very earliest stage of technological development

    so I read that as saying it's been proposed.

    And they would really really like to have some .gov pay for it all, but... no promises on results!

    sheesh.

  • Paying geeks money to test smells is not going to help stimulate the economy.

  • everyone will be found to be lying....
  • is invent/patent a cologne/perfume that smells like a lie and poof profit?????????

  • At least now we know why people will believe anything they read on the internet---they can't smell the author.

    There really is a feeding frenzy going on at the government trough right now, isn't there? If "that smells suspicious" made the cut, what other figures of speech can we get paid to test? I think I'll see if I can get paid to study why feet smell and noses run. Or the scientific difference between shutting up and quieting down.

  • DHS has announced several studies attempting to serve as lie detection. All of the others had a fatal flaw, as does this one. A major problem is that they detect physiological changes or signals but can't determine the reason. A person nervous about flying will respond to this measure the same as a person planning to blow it up. Another problem is that this measure requires 15 to 60 seconds for the body to react maximally. The amount of time being interrogated will build up to the point that most anyone wou

  • ...be he sure as hell reeks too badly to be allowed on the plane.

  • Ha! I fart in your general direction!

  • by ClosedSource (238333) on Thursday March 12, 2009 @01:41PM (#27169801)

    You can check your anatomy all you want, and even though there may be normal variation, when it comes right down to it, this far inside pseudoscience it all looks the same.

He's dead, Jim.

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