Home Curriculum Vitae Publications Conference Reports Forthcoming Extramural Colloquia Expert Testimony Teaching Healthcare The Human Ecology of Memory Research Archive Publications and Reports Rants


Truth Serum It's Not

Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal

submitted June 20, 2002

In "Make Them Talk" (June 18, 2002), E.V. Kontorovich suggests that body-cavity searches and truth serum can "get pearls of intelligence out of...  clammed-up captives".  Setting aside the nontrivial issue of probable cause, at least body-cavity searches yield physical evidence that can be publicly evaluated and objectively confirmed.  "Truth serum", however, does no such thing.  At least since the 1930s, barbiturates have frequently been touted as a means of facilitating the disclosure of information, revealing unconscious memories, and the like.  But in all this time there has never been even a single controlled clinical or experimental study demonstrating that the information produced by drugged individuals is reliable (see, for example, August Piper's review of the literature in the 1994 Journal of Psychiatry and the Law).  That is to say, there is no reason to think that information elicited by barbiturates is correct, or even that it is more likely to be true than false.  Accordingly, clinicians and interrogators who use barbiturate in their investigations will inevitably waste precious resources chasing down false leads.  Rather than laying in a supply of barbiturates, intelligence agencies would probably be better advised to hire more staff fluent in foreign languages and cultures, and train them in the social psychology of interrogation.

This page last revised 04/08/10 02:58:52 PM.