Police scanner


Scientific Content Analysis, called SCAN, is touted by proponents as a tool to identify deception. Law enforcement has used his method on suspects for decades, even though there’s no reliable science behind it, despite the name.

An article by Ken Armstrong and Christian Sheckler shone a light on this technique which is little-known outside of interrogation rooms. They pair recounted the story or Ricky Joyner, currently incarcerated on a murder conviction.

Police asked Joyner to fill out a questionnaire regarding the disappearance of Elkhart, Ind., woman, Sandra Hernandez. Remembering what they had learned in SCAN classes, detectives noticed Joyner refrained from using first person pronouns, writing, as one example, “Went home,” instead of, “I went home.” Or that a reference to his love interest was scribbled down as “a girlfriend,” instead of “my girlfriend.”

What would seem to most people to be innocuous was considered signs of guilty by police. Offices also found it suspicious that Joyner’s handwriting was larger and more spread out in the answer’s last two lines than in the previous seven. This can happen when one gets tired from writing nine pages, as Joyner had done, but in SCAN logic, this was indication the author was a murderer. When police asked Joyner why they should believe him, he wrote, “I have nothing to hide.” Detectives thought this was a big deal since he failed to declare explicitly state, “I didn’t do it.”

Suspects like Joyner fill out a statement that SCAN investigators peruse for signs of deception. They focus on pronouns used, inconsistent vocabulary, what has been omitted, and how much of a suspect’s statement focuses on what happened before, during, and after an event.

Indications of truthfulness are considered to be: Using the past tense; using first-person singular; and direct denials, the best being: “I did not do it.” Signs of deception include lack of memory, spontaneous corrections, and using two different words to convey the same meanings, such as writing “angry” at one point, then “mad” later.

SCAN founder Vinoam Sapir demonstrated on television how the techniques are supposed to work by analyzing some famous examples. He looked at the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. Sapir told the interviewer: “The report says, ‘whether,’ and not ‘whether or not.’ By the omission of ‘or not’ it seems that the FBI was already concentrating on only one option.” However, the use of “or not” would be redundant, so Sapir is engaging in wild speculation, besides being linguistically mistaken.

He also touched on Anita Hill’s testimony, pouncing on the fact that she said, “I had a normal social life with other men outside of the office.” Sapir arrived at this conclusion: “There is only a certain group in society that can label themselves as normal, and that is people who were labeled abnormal before.” Also a red flag, he continued, was that Hill referred to herself as an “individual” and “a person.” This assertion of her humanity was considered odd by Sapir. “Anita Hill never called herself a woman,” he gleefully noted, said, and suggested this meant she had issues with her sexual identity.

In another high-profile example from the early 1990s, Sapir recalled how Connie Chung had asked Magic Johnson about whether he was gay or bisexual. Johnson replied, “I’m not gay,” Sapir interpreted to mean that the Hall of Fame point guard was bisexual. But Johnson Had been presented artificially-limited choices. Had Chung added heterosexual to her probing of Johnson’s sexuality, Sapir’s deduction might have had more validity, but even then, wouldn’t be as certain as he is implying.

For all of Sapir’s certainty, there is nothing scientific behind SCAN despite that word appearing in its name. Five studies have shown that the techniques work no better than chance when determining if a statement is true or deceptive.

Psychology professor Aldert Vrij co-authored the most recent of these five papers and has published hundreds of pieces on verbal and nonverbal cues to deception.

He also led a study that included 61 volunteers split into three groups. In this experiment, one group consisted of members who committed a mock theft of a statistics exam from a departmental mailbox, then lied about everything they had done that day in written statements. A second group comprised members who stole the exam but lied only about the paper pilfering, and not about anything else. The third group were subjects who stole nothing and were truthful in all their answers.

Interrogators analyzed the resulting statements using SCAN criteria. Their results failed to show any distinction between the three groups. “In sum, no support for the use of SCAN was found in the experiment,” the authors concluded. Vrij also faulted SCAN for its lack of standardization, noting that the criteria that is considered most relevant varies by interrogator.

I decided be an interrogator myself and use SCAN techniques on a section of Sapir’s home page from what appears to be from Gopher era website.

Sapir gave this synopsis of how SCAN is supposed to work:
1. Give the subject a pen and paper.
2. Ask the subject to write down his/her version of what happened.
3. Analyze the statement and solve the case.

Here is my analysis of Sapir’s analysis:

1. By failing to include ‘a’ or any other qualifier before paper, Sapir shows he is afraid of commitment, never telling us how many sheets are needed.

2. Sapir instructs the person to ‘ask’ the subject something. He should have instead wrote, ‘Have the subject write down…,” since interrogators are not asking questions, but requesting a statement. This indicates Sapir is evasive with regard to his intent.

3. The entire point is to analyze and solve, so this is a superfluous and points to egomaniacal behavior.

“Decreased celery” (Negative calorie foods)

For all the fad diets that come and go, there really is no secret to weight loss. Reduce the number of calories taken in, increase the number of calories burned. There are tips that can help with this, such as planning workout routines with a partner since one is less likely to blow off a friend than one is to skip a gym solo session. Drinking water to feel full or concentrating on satiating foods also helps, but basics are still less in, more out.

With that, there is the notion that some foods that will take more energy to digest than what they provide in calories, making for a negative caloric intake. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that the caloric content of food and how much energy the body spends burning calories are both testable claims so let’s test away.

We start by considering the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is how much energy a body at rest burns in a day. It’s essentially how many freebies you get. You can consume this amount of calories, remain sedentary, and your weight will hold steady.

A formula called the Revised Harris-Benedict Equation multiplies a person’s height, weight, and age by a separate constant then totals them all up with another constant. Dunning wrote that for a man who is 5-6 and weighs 150 pounds, it would look like this:

BMR = (13.397 × weight in kg) + (4.799 × height in cm) – (5.677 × age in years) + 88.362.

In this scenario, our hypothetical test subject has a BMR of 1,607 calories. Those are his freebies. If he engages in a small amount of activity, such as walking to the post office or wherever people walk to in these days of dwindling post offices, we multiply his BMR by 1.2. Moderate activity such as jumping jacks and chopping wood would necessitate multiplying the BMR by 1.55. Strenuous activity such as sprinting uphill while carrying dumbbells means multiplying the BMR by 1.725. This would boost the number of calories he could take in without gaining weight to nearly 2, 800, substantially more than the 1,600 he gets for lying on the couch.

Now we consider the thermic effect of food. This refers to metabolic rise needed to digest victuals. A resting metabolic rate when doing nothing beyond daydreaming is what we get we arrive at the BMR of 1,607 calories. But when someone begins digesting food, that rate rises.

Thermic effects differ based on the food and the person. Fat digests easily, and thus has a low thermic effect and lots of calories. At the opposite end of the spectrum we find high-protein foods. These need to be broken down into amino acids in order to be digested and this requires energy. Similarly, foods containing complex carbohydrates and fiber make the body work harder to reduce them into the needed building blocks.The energy required to perform these processing tasks varies by person, with obesity and insulin resistance the biggest factors.

Put all this together and we will see that under specific conditions, negative calorie foods can exist. Someone who is slender and with low insulin resistance might get negative calories from celery consumption. The food is mostly water and the few calories come from fiber, the unraveling and digesting of which produces high thermic effects.

But only a few foods function as negative calorie ones. Further, this only works for the slimmest, healthiest people. For those at normal or above normal weights, celery would likely not be a negative calorie food and, even if it were, a steady intake of the fibrous green veggie would make for a poor diet lacking in nutrients. It is also not very satiating or tasty, to say nothing of how hard it would be to stick to.

“Flop secret” (Rhonda Byrne)


Want to know a secret? You can have whatever you want just by thinking about it happily enough. However, steer clear of negative or scary thoughts, which can cause things you fear to happen. Actually, this isn’t so much as secret as is THE Secret, a movie and book by Rhonda Byrne.

Her premise entails more than suggesting that positive thinking can be one tool in a kit that helps foster desirable results. Byrne claims that wishing for something in a specific manner (which she sells) will have a causal effect. Do it well enough and stage four cancer patients can have the disease cured on the day they win the lottery.

This is accompanied by evidence-free claims that The Secret has been known and utilized by many great persons. The list reads like a casting call put out for history’s most forward thinkers and accomplished geniuses. We’re talking Buddha, Aristotle, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, and Ludwig von Beethoven. Curiously, none of these persons ever made reference to the exponential power of positive thinking. Maybe they were really good at keeping The Secret.

While a positive outlook and the search for silver linings can be of some benefit, the same cannot be said for The Secret’s insistence that people’s thoughts are responsible for bad things that happen to them. Anyone victimized by rape, tornadoes, drunk drivers, or childhood leukemia could have avoided this fate by adjusting their thought patterns.

That’s not the way it’s presented in the book or the movie, but neither is it a strawman. It is taking the idea’s philosophy to its conclusion.

Many persons have a romantic, wistful image about things from ancient days, which is one reason Byrne references Buddha, Aristotle, and Plato. People also like easy answers, even if they come at $179 a pop. They also like to feel in control. Put all this together, and one arrives at The Secret.

While it uses the appeal to antiquity, The Secret also employs that logical fallacy’s opposite number, the appeal to novelty. Byrne claims to be on the cutting edge of science by stating that quantum physics explains The Secret via the Law of Attraction. This can sound reasonable to a lay person, especially one who wants to believe, since attraction sounds like magnetism, which is a genuine phenomenon.

However, Byrne asserts that thoughts have energy and that similar energies are attracted to each other. These feelings are said to flow from the thinker in the form of magnetic energy waves, which force the universe around the thinker to vibrate at the same energy level as their feelings. That is not a genuine phenomenon, but genuine gobbledygook. Further, it has no relevance to quantum physics, which is the attempt to describe what goes on at the atomic and subatomic levels.

Common sense should come into play here. If one has no way to pay the rent that’s due in three weeks, sitting around envisioning money falling into one’s lap is a much worse way to spend precious time than applying for jobs.
There is a grain of truth to the idea that thoughts can influence behavior and actions. But there is no such grain associated with the idea of metaphysical entities existing for our access and manipulation.

“Good Lourdes, No” (River healing)


The 19th Century featured its allotment of 14-year-olds whose purported visions ignited prominent religious undertakings. Joseph Smith founded Mormonism as a result, while Bernadette Soubirous transformed the River Gave near Lourden, France, into a Catholic holy after saying that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her many times there.

The Roman Catholic Church credulously and uncritically swallowed this claim and has put its stamp of blessing on 67 specific miracles that supposedly have taken place near the shores. There is no independent verification of these cures, no experiments, no controls, and no winning of the James Randi Challenge.

Furthermore, the miracles have been of the relatively modest variety and are mostly explicable through medicine or human physiology. No one has regained sight, regrown a limb, or risen from the dead.

Curiously, Soubirous claimed only that Mary had appeared to her and made a few announcements. The teen never asserted that she was on the receiving end of a miracle or that the apparition promised future divine interventions on the riverbed.

Still, Catholic believers flock each year to the site. The steady stream of claims that flow from there is as uninterrupted as the river itself. And they are comparable to those made from persons who undertake secular pilgrimages to Loch Ness.

Cognitive dissonance and the desire to believe combine to make the observer impervious to reality. No one wants to admit the traveled all this way for nothing. They saw a beast or received some godly blessing, con sarn it!

Very few of these putative miracles are considered as such even by the Church. The Vatican has criteria for what it considers to be miraculous. The gist of it is that a group comprising nearly two dozen medical doctors must acknowledge that an ailment could not have been cured by means known to science. If a treatment or product could have been the reason, no miracle is proclaimed.

But even when no explanations emerge, it is appealing to ignorance to conclude that the Christian deity, working through magic water, was responsible. Indeed, why would an all-powerful, omnipresent force induce someone with a serious illness to undertake arduous travel to another country or continent to receive healing?

Even when a genuine improvement has taken place, it is post hoc reasoning to attribute this to Lourdes, by way of a supernatural conduit. Many illnesses are cyclical, and the improvement may have taken place if one had gone to the Nile or stayed home. There also may have been other medicine or treatments taking place before, during, and after the trip.

The last Lourdes miracle claimed by the Church was 20 years ago, when the Church insisted that a man was freed of his multiple sclerosis after 12 years. Less fortunate was Soubirous. For being the embodiment of miraculous healing, she made out poorly. She suffered from lingering cases of tuberculosis and asthma and died at the not-so-ripe-old age of 35.

“Sticky situation” (Star jelly)


Since at least the 15th Century, there have been reports of what is generally termed star jelly, either falling from the sky or appearing mysteriously overnight. Descriptions vary, but witnesses usually talk about seeing a sticky, slimy goo, somewhat akin to Jell-O, and usually concentrated in puddle or patch form.

Folklore often attributes the jelly to meteors, but there is no scientific evidence for a connection. And even a shooting star that appears to be directly overhead is likely thousands of miles to the left or right and would leave any deposit far from the viewer. Star jelly has a much shorter shelf life than even the most perishable vegetables and usually evaporates or disintegrates before it can be analyzed.

Many guesses have been made as to what it is, from the scientific to the pseudoscientific to the just plain bizarre. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning looked at some of these and concludes that star jelly is likely not a single phenomenon but multiple ones that have come to reside under the same mysterious umbrella.

Among the rational, terrestrial explanations are that it star jelly are a form of slime mold, which are neither fungus nor bacteria, and which use spores to reproduce. They prefer dead plant matter, which enables them to feeding on its microorganisms. Slime molds begin as a single cell, can reproduce quickly, and move noticeably. When growing, slime molds are wet and slimy, and appear suddenly, with a gelatinous appearance that morphs into a dusty form. Much wind or rain at all will cause it to evaporate or disintegrate. These distinctions are consistent with many star jelly reports, though not all.

Another possible answer are a cyanobacteria called Nostoc. Nostocs exist everywhere on the planet as minuscule colonies of bacteria. They are so tiny that only a botanist looking for them would be likely to make a sighting. But when wet, Nostocs swell to a much larger size and transform into gooey lumps or puddles. This would create an illusion of sudden appearance, when it was actually a change in appearance.

Another candidate is bryozoan, a phylum which exists in colonies of interdependent individuals. Most of these colonies are about a half a millimeter long and secrete exoskeletons. In some species, these skeletons are somewhat solid, making the colony look like a plant or coral. In other species, this exoskeleton is gelatinous, which turns the colony into a wet, sticky blob. Both of these eventualities could be taken to be star jelly.

Other natural substances that could explain star jelly include unfertilized frog spawn or deer sperm. And in The Book of British Amphibians and Reptiles, authors speculate that star jelly may form from the glands in frog and toad oviducts. Birds and mammals will eat the animals but not the oviducts which, when they come into contact with moisture, swell and distort leaving a vast pile of jellylike substance.

There has been speculation that star jelly being a more revolting substance, specifically chemical waste dumped from the airline toilets. However airplanes have never dumped toilet from the sky. It is possible for airline toilet systems to leak, forming blue ice can fall off when the plane descends. But the results are not gelatinous and have a color inconsistent with star jelly descriptions.

A far less reasonable airliner-related speculation is that star jelly is chemtrail residue. This is an instance of Tooth Fairy Science, where someone attempts to explain something by means of something not yet proven. Since chemtrails remain in the realm evidence-free paranoia, they make for a poor explanation as to what causes star jelly.

Jelly star sightings are sometimes accompanied by reports of widespread sickness enveloping the area. This leads to the most (literally) out there answer, that star jelly houses an alien virus. But there would be no reason to suspect that the jelly is causing a mass sickness. That would be a correlation/causation error. There’s never been a diagnosis of a pathogen tied to star jelly and any town is going to have a virus going around to some degree at any time. You could tie that virus to anything you wanted, be it rutabaga sales, tech stock prices, or the percentage of men wearing fedoras.

“Bird drain” (Avian apocalypse)



A study of North American bird populations appearing in the journal Science this fall set off alarms about an impending avian apocalypse. But while most of the numbers in the study were strictly correct, mitigating factors make the likely scenario far less chilling.

Cornell conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg led the study, which found that since 1970, the North American bird population has declined by nearly 30 percent, a net loss of around 3 billion feathered flyers.

While the numbers were concerning, Slate’s Michael Schulson talked with experts who analyzed the statistics and found them to reveal a less dire situation than what the media had portrayed.

Writing for Dynamic Ecology, University of Maine ecologist Brian McGill expressed general approval of the article and its findings, but still doubted if the numbers warranted the anxious response. McGill noted that many of the vanishing birds belong to species not native to North America. This is especially important, McGill said, since, “land managers and conservation agencies have spent a lot of money to drive down or eliminate invasive species.” In other words, the numbers suggest that conservation efforts are working, not that birds are declining at an unsettling rate.

McGill also pointed out that species which prefer farmland once had their numbers artificially boosted by the clearing of forests and the destruction of prairie land. Hence, the decline is likely a return to a safe, thriving level, not a harbinger of doom.

Additionally, McGill writes that the species that account the majority of the dip are among the most abundant bird species in North America. While the numbers are a cause for concern, they don’t necessarily suggest an ongoing extinction event.

University of Minnesota conservation biologist Todd Arnold agreed. “If you take away the 40 biggest decliners from the data set, then what’s left behind is hundreds of birds, some of which are declining, some of which are increasing,” he said. “But, on average, the increases outweigh the declines.”

Manu Saunders, a postdoctoral researcher who studies ecology and insect populations, is an even stronger critic of the Creeping Cataclysm narrative bandied by the press. Some graphics released as part of the study would seem to suggest panic was the correct response. One such chart showed a population line plunging nearly to the x-axis, seemingly suggesting an impending extinction. Yet this eventuality is not supported by the study’s data set and does reflect the paper’s claims.

The stage for this ornithological overreaction may have been set by a previously-released and equally incorrect study that portended doom for insect populations.

McGill worries this Chicken Little approach might cause the public to place less trust in scientific reports and to ignore their suggestions to modify behavior. Even though the scientists made measured claims and  the media sounded the false alarm, people are doubtful to remember that when the bird die-off fails to materialize. Instead, the public may misattribute the panic to the scientists and give less credence to future studies.

“Missing the target” (Human trafficking hysteria)


Law enforcement agencies will occasionally trumpet that they have conducted a sting or undercover operation that has resulted in the arrest of dozens of human traffickers and rescued hundreds of trafficking victims. This leaves people breathlessly wondering, if all this has taken place in one city over a few months, how widespread must this tragedy be?

But when journalists have the time and wherewithal to follow up and break down the specifics of each arrest, it turns out the actual number of traffickers apprehended and victims saved is almost always zero.

The law enforcement agencies arrive at their greatly exaggerated numbers by intentionally conflating all sex work with kidnapping and rape. A man and woman who use an app to arrange a clandestine for-money hook-up that involves no one else would be touted by police as human trafficking. No distinction is made between traffickers and masseuses, or between victims and found runaways.

Police round up the usual suspects and put another notch in their shining knight belts, regardless of what really happened.

In Reason, libertarian-minded John Stossel wrote about one of the more well-known instances of this grandstanding, when Florida police charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with soliciting prostitution. The media praised this rescue of sex slaves, but all involved women were willing participants. And far from being rescued (not that they needed to be), they were instead jailed and entered into the criminal justice system.

These are the results of the latest moral panic, in line with witches in Puritan America, Communism in the 1950s, and Satanism in the 1980s. Rep. Ann Wagner screeched on the Congressional floor, “300,000 American children are at risk,” a typically hyperbolic and evidence-free number bandied about my anxious believers.

Wagner got this number from a study that has been disavowed by its lead author. Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown told Stossel that if trafficking was that prevalent, “Cops would be able to find this all the time and wouldn’t have to go through these elaborate stings.”

Another unsubstantiated number comes from Ashton Kutcher, who told Congress about an app that has “identified over 6,000 trafficking victims this year.”

Yet Brown noted, “If Ashton Kutcher is finding all those victims, he’s not turning them over to police.” This is similar to claims 30 years ago that thousands of children were being raped or murdered by Satanic cults, yet no one making these assertions was able to offer the name of a victim, perpetrator, or location. The only exceptions were a couple of instances in which the allegations were false, ruining innocent lives.

These alarmist attitudes are especially impacting the hospitality industry, where hotel employees are encouraged to be unpaid law enforcement deputies. They are trained to remember long lists of innocuous activities, descriptions, and distinctions, and to consider them evidence of human trafficking.

Examples include: Having lingerie, condoms, an alcohol stash, lots of cash, or multiple phones and computers; declining housekeeping service; leaving minors in the room; infrequently leaving the hotel; using more toiletries and towels than most guests; or a prolonged stay with few possessions. Even wearing hats and sunglasses or being seen with a toy is considered evidence that the person is holding children captive and supplying them to lowlifes for the most malevolent purposes.

Because of all this, Brown has trouble containing her glee that police are starting to pay for their panicky pronouncements. There have been so many announcements making such grandiose claims that recipients of these messages have begun to suspect trafficking from the most benign activities. They then waste police time by reporting this, or worse for the cops, turn into an agitated activist whose social media campaign berates the cops for failing so stop the peddling of our children.

Brown cited an example from Glendale, Wis., where locals chided police for failing to put an end to “girls as young as 12 being snatched up from two local malls and sold into prostitution rings.” The person starting this campaign said a Milwaukee Police Department detective had told her that two Glendale malls were regularly used to traffic people.

This was followed with calls to keep girls and young women locked up at home and to engage in vigilantism: “If you shop in or frequent these areas keep your eyes open, you could make a huge difference.”

Yet no arrest records or information from the suspected trafficking center’s public affairs departments yielded one piece of evidence to support the claims. Like all good moral panics, this resulted not in relief, but in charges of denial and cover-up.

One commenter was somewhat placated, but warned, “It could happen here. Scary.” Yes, and NASA may somehow have missed a meteor that will wipe out two-thirds of the planet’s population later today. But stewing about such matters is neither reasonable nor a prudent use of emotions and resources.

Another commenter was less generous and declared, “Just because there have been no reports of this sort of thing does not mean it is not happening.” One went further still and insisted, “It IS happening and turning a blind eye does not save these young women.”

Any posters who sided with the police (and reality) were chastised for being naïve or were even called traffickers.

These reactions happen, Brown said, because, “When confronted with credible evidence that contradicts our understanding of a situation, we tend to double-down on our erroneous belief and seek ways to discredit the information or the messenger.”

The mall cases featured generic terminology, but sometimes reports of supposed trafficking feature names and specific actions undertaken – though the proof remains nonexistent.

According to Oklahoma media outlet KFOR, a woman named Amanda Kalidy said she was at Target with her 4-year-old daughter. While there, a girl about 9 years old asked Kalidy’s child multiple times for candy. Nearby, there was the most frightening creature imaginable: An unknown male. Kalidy concluded that this man was using the 9-year-old as bait to lure the preschooler into a child sex trafficking ring.

The usual panicked responses ensued, and it’s doubtful many of the posters were assuaged by an Oklahoma official telling KFOR that when trafficking does occur, the victims are usually drawn into the web by an acquaintance over time. They are not snatched from their mother at a retailer in broad daylight.

The Wisconsin and Oklahoma cases are just two examples of concerned citizenry responding to officials hyperventilating about human trafficking. The results have been dire warnings about Hobby Lobby abductions, Zip ties or shirts tied to side-view mirrors to distract victims, or white vans with external locks (used by contractors to keep their tools safe). Or there are horror stories about someone accepting a stranger’s Friend request, then having their child abducted at school later that day by their new-found Friend, who gleaned the school’s location from the person’s profile.

Most of these are anonymous, undocumented examples but sometimes a person like Kalidy will post that their child was targeted, and this is shared ad infinitum. In a typical tale, a panicked mother writes that she encountered a man found four times in same aisle as her and again at the checkout stand, and this can only mean he was there on a kidnapping mission. Of course, these supposed abduction attempts never result in an actual abduction or even attempt. And in the cases from the above paragraph, no victims are ever named.

Rather than being the end of it, this is all treated by believers as evidence of how efficient traffickers are, meaning we should be exhibiting even higher level of panic.