Paul Levy – Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview

BuddhaAtTheGasPump Discussion of this interview in the BatGap Community Facebook Group:… Also see A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of * Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality * Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes your Father * Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil and * The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis. He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. He was the coordinator for the Portland Padmasambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years.

Dreams, Psychic Dreams and Lucid Dreams with Loyd Auerbach

New Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove Loyd Auerbach, MS, received his masters’ degree in parapsychology from John F. Kennedy University. He is author of Mind Over Matter; ESP, Hauntings, and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook; Reincarnation, Channeling, and Possession; Psychic Dreaming; A Paranormal Casebook; and Ghost Hunting: How to Investigate the Paranormal. He is co-author (with Ed May, Joseph McMoneagle, and Victor Rubel) of ESP Wars: East and West. He is the Director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Rhine Research Center. Here he points out that disagreement still exists among researchers as to whether or not dreams are meaningful. Psychic dreams typically feel different than other dreams. They are frequently described as “more real than real”. Nuances concerning precognitive dreams are presented. Such dreams can be life-changing — usually, but not always, in positive ways. The discussion focuses on the relationship between dream states, hypnotic states, and meditative states — leading to questions about the nature of consciousness itself. New Thinking Allowed host, Jeffrey Mishlove, PhD, is author of The Roots of Consciousness, Psi Development Systems, and The PK Man. Between 1986 and 2002 he hosted and co-produced the original Thinking Allowed public television series. He is the recipient of the only doctoral diploma in “parapsychology” ever awarded by an accredited university (University of California, Berkeley, 1980). (Recorded on June 11, 2019)

Book: “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity”

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

by David GraeberDavid Wengrow 

A dramatically new understanding of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution—from the development of agriculture and cities to the origins of the state, democracy, and inequality—and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation.

For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike—either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction to powerful critiques of European society posed by Indigenous observers and intellectuals. Revisiting this encounter has startling implications for how we make sense of human history today, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilization itself.

Drawing on pathbreaking research in archaeology and anthropology, the authors show how history becomes a far more interesting place once we learn to throw off our conceptual shackles and perceive what’s really there. If humans did not spend 95 percent of their evolutionary past in tiny bands of hunter-gatherers, what were they doing all that time? If agriculture, and cities, did not mean a plunge into hierarchy and domination, then what kinds of social and economic organization did they lead to? The answers are often unexpected, and suggest that the course of human history may be less set in stone, and more full of playful, hopeful possibilities, than we tend to assume.

The Dawn of Everything fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society. This is a monumental book of formidable intellectual range, animated by curiosity, moral vision, and a faith in the power of direct action.

Includes Black-and-White Illustrations


A Course in Miracles: Lesson 131

Daily Lessons from A Course in Miracles with Marianne Williamson
 Lesson 131 No one can fail who seeks to reach the truth.

Failure is all about you while you seek for goals that cannot be achieved. You look for permanence in the impermanent, for love where there is none, for safety in the midst of danger; immortality within the darkness of the dream of death. Who could succeed where contradiction is the setting of his searching, and the place to which he comes to find stability?

Goals that are meaningless are not attained. There is no way to reach them, for the means by which you strive for them are meaningless as they are. Who can use such senseless means, and hope through them to gain in anything? Where can they lead? And what could they achieve that offers any hope of being real? Pursuit of the imagined leads to death because it is the search for nothingness, and while you seek for life you ask for death. You look for safety and security, while in your heart you pray for danger and protection for the little dream you made.

Yet searching is inevitable here. For this you came, and you will surely do the thing you came for. But the world can not dictate the goal for which you search, unless you give it power to do so. Otherwise, you still are free to choose a goal that lies beyond the world and every worldly thought, and one that comes to you from an idea relinquished yet remembered, old yet new; an echo of a heritage forgot, yet holding everything you really want.

Be glad that search you must. Be glad as well to learn you search for Heaven, and must find the goal you really want. No one can fail to want this goal and reach it in the end. God’s Son can not seek vainly, though he try to force delay, deceive himself and think that it is hell he seeks. When he is wrong, he finds correction. When he wanders off, he is led back to his appointed task.

No one remains in hell, for no one can abandon his Creator, nor affect His perfect, timeless and unchanging Love. You will find Heaven. Everything you seek but this will fall away. Yet not because it has been taken from you. It will go because you do not want it. You will reach the goal you really want as certainly as God created you in sinlessness.

Why wait for Heaven? It is here today. Time is the great illusion it is past or in the future. Yet this cannot be, if it is where God wills His Son to be. How could the Will of God be in the past, or yet to happen? What He wills is now, without a past and wholly futureless. It is as far removed from time as is a tiny candle from a distant star, or what you chose from what you really want.

Heaven remains your one alternative to this strange world you made and all its ways; its shifting patterns and uncertain goals, its painful pleasures and its tragic joys. God made no contradictions. What denies its own existence and attacks itself is not of Him. He did not make two minds, with Heaven as the glad effect of one, and earth the other’s sorry outcome which is Heaven’s opposite in every way.

God does not suffer conflict. Nor is His creation split in two. How could it be His Son could be in hell, when God Himself established him in Heaven? Could he lose what the Eternal Will has given him to be his home forever? Let us not try longer to impose an alien will upon God’s single purpose. He is here because He wills to be, and what He wills is present now, beyond the reach of time.

Today we will not choose a paradox in place of truth. How could the Son of God make time to take away the Will of God? He thus denies himself, and contradicts what has no opposite. He thinks he made a hell opposing Heaven, and believes that he abides in what does not exist, while Heaven is the place he cannot find.

Leave foolish thoughts like these behind today, and turn your mind to true ideas instead. No one can fail who seeks to reach the truth, and it is truth we seek to reach today. We will devote ten minutes to this goal three times today, and we will ask to see the rising of the real world to replace the foolish images that we hold dear, with true ideas arising in the place of thoughts that have no meaning, no effect, and neither source nor substance in the truth.

This we acknowledge as we start upon our practice periods. Begin with this:

I ask to see a different world, and think a different kind of
thought from those I made. The world I seek I did not make
alone, the thoughts I want to think are not my own.

For several minutes watch your mind and see, although your eyes are closed, the senseless world you think is real. Review the thoughts as well which are compatible with such a world, and which you think are true. Then let them go, and sink below them to the holy place where they can enter not. There is a door beneath them in your mind, which you could not completely lock to hide what lies beyond.

Seek for that door and find it. But before you try to open it, remind yourself no one can fail who seeks to reach the truth. And it is this request you make today. Nothing but this has any meaning now; no other goal is valued now nor sought, nothing before this door you really want, and only what lies past it do you seek.

Put out your hand, and see how easily the door swings open with your one intent to go beyond it. Angels light the way, so that all darkness vanishes, and you are standing in a light so bright and clear that you can understand all things you see. A tiny moment of surprise, perhaps, will make you pause before you realize the world you see before you in the light reflects the truth you knew, and did not quite forget in wandering away in dreams.

You cannot fail today. There walks with you the Spirit Heaven sent you, that you might approach this door some day, and through His aid slip effortlessly past it, to the light. Today that day has come. Today God keeps His ancient promise to His holy Son, as does His Son remember his to Him. This is a day of gladness, for we come to the appointed time and place where you will find the goal of all your searching here, and all the seeking of the world, which end together as you pass beyond the door.

Remember often that today should be a time of special gladness, and refrain from dismal thoughts and meaningless laments. Salvation’s time has come. Today is set by Heaven itself to be a time of grace for you and for the world. If you forget this happy fact, remind yourself with this:

Today I seek and find all that I want.
My single purpose offers it to me.
No one can fail who seeks to reach the truth.

–Marianne Williamson

Are men animals?

Are men animals? | Aeon

Diagnosing men as violent and oversexed beasts is tempting but it’s a regressive idea built on dubious analogiesA bar in the City of London, the capital’s financial district, in 1993. Photo by Richard Baker/Getty

Matthew Gutmann is professor emeritus of anthropology at Brown University in Rhode Island. His latest book is Are Men Animals? How Modern Masculinity Sells Men Short (2019).

Edited by Sam Haselby

29 November 2021 (

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Someday, people with penises will gestate foetuses. I am speculating, of course, but not wildly. If babies can be conceived in a test tube, that is, if we can amend the erstwhile rules of reproductive biology this way, why can’t people with penises gestate foetuses, lactate, and do other things associated exclusively with the uterine body? We’re used to the idea that physiological differences dictate rigidly different ways of participating in sexual reproduction. Or at least, that’s the way it’s been so far.

As more and more people are recognising today, biology and sex turn out to be a lot less fixed than we might have once thought. And, importantly, politics is involved in how much our understanding of biology, sex and gender can and should change – and the direction of change.

Commonplace notions of biology and sex continue to influence what we take as natural and given, including the belief that men don’t get pregnant. (And as important as it is to point out that trans men can get pregnant, I am addressing a rather different set of challenges in this essay.) A question I often ask my students in a class on gender and science is this: how many effective and widely available new forms of birth control have been developed in the past 100 years for men? It’s a safe assumption that my captive audience is in the first years of learning about and utilising contraception. Why had so few considered this situation unfair and overly burdensome on women? Why was there still no easily accessible kind of artificial birth control for men other than the condom, which after all has been around in one form or another for at least hundreds of years?

They knew why, because we all know why: no matter how much we talk about gender equality, the implicit assumption often ends up being that men and women are, deep down, different. Only people with female reproductive organs get pregnant, and somehow this has come to mean that women should be more responsible for contraception. Or at least that’s the unspoken belief of many, despite the fact that no one with female reproductive organs ever got pregnant without help from someone with male reproductive organs.

We still live in an age of the gender binary, but it’s also a time of mass gender confusion, debate and renegotiation disputing the gender binary. And that’s a great thing. Assumptions and shibboleths about gender (and sex and sexuality) are being defended and challenged, and language is being recast – think about the sudden transformations of pronouns people are using to refer to themselves. Language matters, and with respect to gender and sexuality I have come to the conclusion that we need to be very careful indeed when we make unwarranted comparisons about common ‘male’ and ‘female’ traits among humans and nonhuman animals. Among other things, there is a whole lot of exaggerated anthropomorphism that tickles our curiosities and satisfies our quixotic yearnings but reinforces erroneous stereotypes about male and female.

Among my favourite examples are prostitute hummingbirds, baboon harems, and mallard duck gang rape.

Some wit thought that when male and female hummingbirds have sex, and the male ‘gives’ something, like a twig for a nest, to the female, the male is in effect paying the female for sex. And that’s what prostitution is all about, isn’t it? The idea that sex work involves a complex network of relationships, and that humans who have sex can also give each other presents without this in itself constituting sex work, is apparently not relevant here. The point is that males pay females for sex (and that this payment is the only reason females allow males to have sex with them), and that there are strong enough cross-species similarities to justify such language flourishes.

When I was young and just learning about sex, I learned about something called a harem. It was an arrangement in some other parts of the world, we thought, where a man could have many wives, and have sex with any one of them he chose. We believed that, if one wife didn’t want to have sex, there would always be another available. So, it’s not strange perhaps that virtually every primatologist who has ever spent the night on a savannah with a troop of baboons has resorted to the shorthand description of ‘harem’ to describe a situation in which one male mates with many females. Not to get too anthropologically nit-picky, but I must object: in dozens of papers and books I have read by these primatologists, I have yet to come across one sentence about, much less a fuller description of, an actual human harem, the cultural and social contexts in which they are found, the agency of females as well as males in these relationships, or any aspect of volition and choice in such arrangements. An adolescent fantasy seems to be the most likely explanation for this salacious anthropomorphism about harems among baboons.

Finally, the matter of mallard ducks and the fact that perhaps 40 per cent of copulations are coerced, an activity that has been called ‘gang rape’ of a solitary female. Even calling this conduct ‘forced copulation’, which might be considered a step in the right direction, still lands us in semantic quicksand, erroneously confusing what is routine behaviour that leads to impregnating the female duck with the actions of human males who consciously decide to sexually attack a female. It also implies that female humans and female ducks are comparatively the same, passive victims and receptacles of male aggression and sexual predation. (For a brazen invocation of the mallard duck gang-rape thesis, see David Barash’s book Sociobiology: The Whisperings Within (1980); for a detailed and thorough takedown of the thesis, see Richard O Prum’s prizewinning book The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – And Us (2017).)

It matters what language we use to describe and explain human behaviour such as prostitution, harems and gang rape, among other things, because it gets to the gist of how ‘animal’ we are: how much we share in common with other animals; how much we have control over our actions; what are fundamental, hardwired (or genetically programmed, evolutionarily driven, chromosomally relevant) differences between male and female humans that relate, for example, to sexuality and aggression; the extent to which the males of all species and the females of all species share some fundamental features in common and, if so, what they are; and which allegedly cross-species male attributes represent a relic of outmoded social values more than anything anatomical.

Let’s consider the 220 million cats and 200 million dogs (and counting) worldwide that we call our pets: how often do we bestow them with human names? How often do we compare their personalities with those of friends or family? We humanise nonhuman animals. And, pretty easily, we extend this line of thinking to humanise nonhuman animal behaviour. We animalise humans, which really means we dehumanise humans, making their actions and desires products of inherited traits more than conscious decision-making and volition. Some have even argued that the role of society is exactly to tame and restrict these supposedly innate, mammalian instincts in humans. As the anthropologist and primatologist Agustín Fuentes wrote in Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You (2012): ‘It’s a commonly held belief that if you strip away culture, that which keeps us well behaved, then a beastly savage will emerge (especially in men).’

In one of my classes I teach about gender and science, I have used the examples of hummingbird prostitutes, baboon harems and mallard duck gang rape. A week after we discussed how such anthropomorphism could lead to woefully incorrect understandings about human sexuality, a student returned with the following anecdote: she had just heard a lecture in her biology class in which the professor used the phrase ‘gangbanging bacteria’. Not even animal gangbanging in this instance! Amusing or alarming?

Although the term ‘toxic masculinity’ has captured the imaginations of many people who want to call attention to men thinking and acting in ways that are harmful to others, male and female, it is also problematic. Because, if you believe that someone who identifies as male can act only within a range of masculinities, and by definition everything they do is on a masculinity continuum of some kind, you are still stuck in a very binary world. Would it make sense to talk about the toxic masculinity of certain male hummingbirds and ducks? Yet ideas about males-of-all-species often lie just beneath the surface of contemporary discussions about the gender binary and, indeed, widespread discussions and debates regarding gender and sexuality.

Efforts in recent years to dismantle neat male-female models have been met with stiff resistance in both religious and scientific quarters. Evolutionary biologists, for instance, have argued vociferously that male-female differences with respect to sexuality and aggression are core components of what it means to be human and animal in general. Among the theological responses to challenges to the gender binary we find one from 2019, when the Vatican published ‘“Male and Female He Created Them”: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education’, written by Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi and Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani. Apparently, the Vatican had decided that gender confusion among its 1.2 billion parishioners worldwide had reached epidemic proportions. Their ‘Male and Female’ paper faithfully endorses the gender binary as God-given, and cautions that any and all notions of gender bending go against not only God but also modern medicine and science.

We pathologise maleness and reduce public policy to restraining males’ ‘natural’ impulses

By censuring anthropology’s examination of gender and sexual indeterminacy as too relativist, and asserting that male and female bodies and temperaments are fundamentally unalike, the gender binary gets sanctified as reality, and it becomes easier to attribute every form of male behaviour – including those related to sexuality and aggression – to the natural, unchangeable world.

This is a time of gender confusion and instability as to what the connection is between physiology and temperament, especially when it comes to male and female. Efforts to delink aggression from something that is considered characteristically and particularly male – in effect, to de-gender our concept of aggression – must inevitably contend with the gender binary. And this is threatening to those with a vested interest in maintaining a view of the world in which perceptions about our biology, and our evolutionary heritage, are reduced to ageless Mars/Venus frameworks.

Yet objections to the gender binary view of the world have implications far beyond spiritual disputes, beyond how many credible parallels we can draw regarding engendered behaviour in humans and, for example, monkeys. Monkey see, human do? Biological extremism gets us into trouble repeatedly, many times without us even realising that our assumptions about differences are based on little more than common sense.

Although most discussions about rape don’t involve mallard ducks, references to ‘rape’ in the nonhuman animal kingdom surely resonate with the idea that there is something natural about rape across species, and therefore that it is, at most, possible to control among humans, but never eradicate, because it is biologically baked in. Thus do we pathologise maleness and reduce public policy to restraining males’ ‘natural’ impulses.

The leading anthropologist of gender and violence Sally Engle Merry has underscored the ease with which the criminalisation of gender-based violence – in her study, spouse abuse in Hilo, Hawai‘i – is naturalised. Husbands beating wives is treated by the courts in Hilo as ‘natural to men’, while men attending state-mandated programmes ‘discover that the authority of the court is exercised against their customary control over women and that their “natural” behaviours are penalised.’

Half a world away, Maria Eriksson Baaz and Maria Stern conducted research on why vast numbers of male soldiers raped women during the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the 1990s and 2000s that killed more than 5 million people. Interviewing officers and soldiers, men and women, these scholars were repeatedly told that there had been two kinds of rape in the DRC: ‘lust rape’ and ‘evil rape’. Male sexual needs caused lust rapes; evil rapes were triggered by men’s need to destroy. Lust rapes were directly linked to the sexual deprivations of wartime.

In the words of one male lieutenant colonel in the Congolese army: ‘Physically, men have needs. He cannot go a long time without being with a woman. It is very difficult to stop him.’ A female major told Eriksson Baaz and Stern: ‘So, the way our [male] soldiers are raping, it is because of lack of money. Maybe he has not been with a woman for 3-4 months and has no money on his pockets. What is he supposed to do?’ As the authors of this study conclude, men’s sexual needs ‘emerged as a given, known, natural driving force which required “satisfaction” from women whose role it is to satisfy these needs.’

In 2007, I was in Haiti interviewing United Nations officials, and UN peacekeeping soldiers, officers and police, about ‘sexual exploitation and abuse’ by UN personnel against girls, women and some boys in the local population. News reports about the rapes of innocent civilians and troops paying for sex with Haitian girls for a cookie or a dollar had become an international disgrace. One of the people I interviewed was Daniel Morales, who was part of the Peruvian contingent among the UN Peacekeepers. We talked in his barracks during a break from his routine patrols. He maintained a line of reasoning that I heard in one form or another from other military officers and UN personnel: ‘If you put men in a situation where they are not going to have sex for three months, that is a challenge, but not insurmountable. If you extend this to six months, well, that is far more difficult. Beyond this point they become unmanageable.’

Male hydraulics seemed to explain why you could expect men to tamp down their sexual needs for only so long before they needed relief. The UN therefore always tried to facilitate nearby ‘rest and recreation’ sites for peacekeepers to seek sexual release in a nearby country. In the case of Haiti, this most often meant trips to the Dominican Republic. The long and often shameful history of armies providing sex workers for soldiers is notorious; for example, Paul Fussell, in his study of the First World War, characterises prevailing sentiments at the time: ‘Prolonged sexual deprivation will necessitate official brothels – in the Great War, “Blue Lights” for officers, “Red Lights” for Other Ranks.’

Yet as much as wars, including the First World War, provide ample illustrations of commonplace notions of males’ violent animality, as the historian George Mosse has also shown, in the manly language of war – think: pain, suffering, duty, sacrifice, fortitude, honour, chivalry – we can find both war fever and antiwar resistance.

Shared animality could become more referential than explanatory

In The Image of Man (1996), Mosse wrote that: ‘The warrior provides a climax to a concept of manliness inherent in much of the construction of modern [Western] masculinity … The Great War was a masculine event, in spite of the role it may have played in encouraging the greater independence of women.’ The First World War was not caused by masculinity or maleness any more than societies exist because of men. But manliness was central to inspiring, facilitating and resolving every aspect of that war, from the doughboys in the furrows and foxholes, to the flying aces and their aerial acrobatics. According to Mosse, as great and obvious as the divisions between opposing nations were, ‘the crucial role played by modern masculinity in upholding the clear division between men and women, so basic to modern society over the past centuries’ also proved fundamental to the wartime ethos. Men and not women were violent, or potentially violent. A man’s physique was naturally inscribed with manly aggression. More, ‘The manner in which the war was waged on the western front encouraged the view of war as dependent on a functioning male camaraderie as soldiers fought, lived together, and died together in the trenches.’

That naturalised camaraderie was to morph years later into the infamous phrase ‘male bonding’, first formulated in 1969 by the biological anthropologist Lionel Tiger to defend his very modern opinion that ‘men “need” some haunts and/or occasions which exclude females’.

One memoirist of the time described the First World War as being what Mosse later called ‘a struggle for existence in which man’s animal instincts were released’. With a populace all too eager to lionise carnage in the name of nation, women, children and other ideological causes, nonetheless, Mosse writes: ‘Most of those who were disillusioned with war tended to join Left-wing movements, and if they became socialists they were apt not only to reject war but to question the manliness that had supported the conflict.’

All the same, pro- and antiwar men could share more than a few similar notions about masculinity and manliness. As Mosse wrote: ‘for all the difference in the conception of masculinity, the identical ideal of moral purity united these socialists and those who believed in the normative ideal of manhood; both shared the view that the generally accepted standards of personal comportment and sexual behaviour were crucial aspects of masculinity. The significant difference lay in the attitude toward political morality, in the acceptance or rejection of aggression and violence.’ And with that, the acceptance or rejection of attributing natural aggression and violence to human males.

By questioning the link between aggression and maleness, the doctrine of male animality could also be tested, and shared animality could become more referential than explanatory.

Pseudoscience beliefs that we find throughout the world today regarding animal maleness are embedded in the language of daily life. Animality is central to the vernacular of male sexuality and aggression, as if human behaviour is solely and best understood as a branch on the tree of bestial evolution. Enormous attention has been paid in recent decades to changing language that naturalises female bodies, to showing that female biology is not female destiny. We have spent less time disturbing language carelessly applied to males, especially that which exculpates male behaviour by blaming monkey-like genes and hormones.

GenderAnimals and humansSex and sexuality

How do you remember Stephen Sondheim?

Bay Area artists celebrate and mourn reinventor of American musical

By Janos Gereben • November 28, 2021 8:30 am – Updated November 29, 2021 1:21 pm (

Stephen Sondheim in 1990. From his earliest successes in the late 1950s, when he wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” through the 1990s, when he wrote the music and lyrics for “Assassins” and “Passion,” Sondheim was a theatrical force. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)
Stephen Sondheim in 1990. From his earliest successes in the late 1950s, when he wrote the lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” through the 1990s, when he wrote the music and lyrics for “Assassins” and “Passion,” Sondheim was a theatrical force. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Stephen Sondheim, who died Friday at age 91, had — and likely will continue to have — a unique place among composers and lyricists for theater-goers around the world. Other artists may be admired, even loved, but Sondheim spoke to his fans in a personal way, his words and music engaging the heart.

“Uncertainty, self-delusion, disillusionment: Sondheim knew that they could be as deeply felt as the primary-color emotions. His characters sang to think and to feel at the same time,” writes Michael Schulman in a New Yorker tribute with the title “Stephen Sondheim Taught Me How to Be a Person.”

The question “How do you remember Stephen Sondheim?” brought these responses from Bay Area musical theater artists.

Daniel Thomas, executive director of 42nd Street Moon, which is presenting the entire canon of Sondheim’s works in a decades-long project, says:

“I came of age as a theater artist when ‘Into the Woods’ was running on Broadway, so like many of my peers, that became my ‘gateway’ show into the world of Sondheim.

“From there I found myself in love with ‘Company’ and ‘A Little Night Music’ — both shows about love and relationships, but both highlighted the characters’ flaws and foibles, characters who sung at length about the cynicism, the loneliness and the darkness that so often walks alongside love and romance.

“There could be happy endings, of course, but those endings often left the characters a little battered and bruised — so much more like contemporary life than the lovers in a show by Cole Porter or Irving Berlin (both of whom I adore). Sondheim’s characters could emotionally soar or sink — often at the same time. As a young adult navigating my own romantic tribulations, these songs and shows felt closer to my experience than the rosy-pink romance of Golden Age Broadway or the navel-gazing emo of so much rock music.”

Of the company’s project of presenting all Sondheim’s published musicals, Thomas says:

“When we produced ‘Saturday Night’ at 42nd Street Moon in 2018, we started talking about the concept of doing each one of his works — something that we didn’t think anyone else had attempted on a professional level.

“We recognized that there was, post-1960, truly no other theater writer who had such a sustained career of innovation and excellence. I sat down and mapped out each of his works as a composer and/or lyricist — which would work best as a full production, an ‘in-concert’ version or a limited-run or staged reading. We figured at one or two shows each season it would take us to about 2032 to cover the canon, and with his passing we are more committed than ever to seeing each one of his works on our stage.”

42nd Street Moon just completed a run of “A Little Night Music,” and will next produce “Merrily We Roll Along.” S.F. Playhouse will present Sondheim’s grand spectacle “Follies” next summer.

Journalist Harvey Steiman’s recollection:

“In 1979, my desk neighbor at the San Francisco Examiner, music critic Michael Walsh, sidled over and handed me a copy of the LP album for a new musical, ‘Sweeney Todd.’ ‘It’s actually an opera,’ Michael whispered conspiratorially, ‘but don’t tell anyone.’

“When I put it on the turntable that evening, my conception of what a Broadway musical could be was changed forever. Sondheim had already made an impact with ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ ‘Company and ‘Follies.’ Impressive as those were, this was something more, as musically powerful as a great opera, deep and complex while couched in the language of the music hall.

“Later that year, I found myself in New York for a conference, and scored second-row tickets for a performance. As many times as I listened to the score, seeing it play out before me was overwhelming. I never missed an opportunity to see a Sondheim musical on and off Broadway. Among the highlights were ‘Pacific Overtures’ (in the more intimate off-Broadway revival), and original runs of ‘Sunday in the Park With George,’ ‘Into The Woods’ and ‘Passion.’

“For me, Sondheim is the Giuseppe Verdi of the musical theater, endlessly inventive, magically using music to invest story and character with depth and honesty, and make his own words come to life.”

Taiji master and prolific author Al Huang writes from Esalen, where he is teaching for the 51st year:

“‘Anyone Can Whistle’ has been one of the theme songs in my Creative Tai Ji teaching worldwide. I was fortunate to be in NYC when the show was on, for only 12 days I believe. I saw the show which stirred me deeply. That title song lingers (and) has guided me to encourage all my students to allow Tai Ji to happen to them, just like whistling, naturally, with the irony and self-acknowledged humility and acceptance of what gets in the way when we try too much and too hard.”

Soprano Michele Kennedy says: “In 2011, I attended the Arts and Culture Awards at Alice Tully Hall, and saw Sondheim accept New York City’s highest artistic honor: the Handel Medallion.

“He spoke with such grace, humility and wit upon accepting the award — the entire audience was rapt. And then Patti Lupone performed his ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ with such raw vulnerability that I can call it to mind immediately: a bold, pithy, wry commentary on misogyny and class as only Sondheim could write it. It made me laugh and want to cry all at once. It gave me goosebumps. And it made me fall in love with songwriting in a way that’s stayed with me ever since.”

Former Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette notes something that also sets Sondheim apart: “These days when an artist I admired dies, I kind of brace for the social media revelations that he actually sexually harassed colleagues, was unkind to students, and so on.

“I have been struck by reading so many personal anecdotes of Sondheim’s humanity and kindness to young people. May they keep coming.”

Ancient wisdom for healing the planet

Shweta Narayan|Countdown Summit (

The doctrine of “first, do no harm” is the basis of the Hippocratic Oath, one of the world’s oldest codes of ethics. It governs the work of physicians — but climate and health campaigner Shweta Narayan says it should go further. In this essential talk, she highlights the interdependence of environmental and human health and emphasizes the necessity of placing health at the heart of all climate solutions. “It’s impossible to have healthy people on a sick planet,” she says.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.


Shweta Narayan · Climate and health campaignerFrom her base in India, Shweta Narayan works on accelerating the role of health professionals in climate action.

Tarot Card for November 30: The Knight of Disks

The Knight of Disks

With the Knight of Disks we see a man who is deeply committed to practical matters in life – work, career, home and family are his major spheres of influence. He is diligent, hard-working and pays great attention to detail.

His progress in life is a steady, sure development of ongoing projects, which he works through with great industriousness and perseverance. Not for him, risky schemes, nor extravagant business deals. He moves with caution and circumspection, consolidating each step forward before taking the next one.

Some would consider him dull and boring – others would call him prudent and reliable.

The card often comes up to represent a quiet man, whose approach to life is measured and calm. However it’s as well not to be taken in by the sturdy exterior. Disks males have a capacity for deep and boundless passion – they just don’t shout too loudly about it. Whilst life with him may not be a roller-coaster ride, you will surely know what to expect, and what you can count on.

He makes an excellent business partner, particularly for the high-flyer, because he introduces forethought and pre-planning. He’s a faithful and dependable partner, and a committed father.

The Knight of Disks

(via and Alan Blackman)

Unseen scars of childhood trauma

Twenty years of research have established the connection between adverse childhood experiences and long-term health. Now researchers are looking for ways to measure the biology behind the correlation and try to reverse it.

By Amanda B. Keener 01.25.2021 (

Before you were 18, did a parent or other adult in your household ever push, grab, shove or slap you?

Was a household member depressed or mentally ill?

Did a household member go to prison?

These are just a sampling of the questions asked in a landmark study of 17,337 middle-aged adults that began in the late 1990s. The work showed researchers for the first time just how common adverse childhood experiences, as they’re termed, truly are: Nearly two-thirds of the group of mostly white, middle-class people from the San Diego area had experienced at least one type of physical or psychological trauma included in the survey. Twelve percent had been through four or more.

But the biggest surprise from the study was that adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, didn’t just lead to emotional and psychological ill effects, such as depression, later in life: People who had more traumatic experiences were also more likely as adults to have heart disease, cancer and a host of other health problems. And though people with higher ACE scores are more likely to smoke and suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse, behavioral factors don’t fully account for these increased disease risks.

Follow-up studies over the last 20 years have confirmed these findings and found links to other conditions, including type 2 diabetes and autoimmune disorders. Recent work has shown that ACEs can start to affect health even in childhood, increasing risks for asthma, cognitive delays, hormone imbalances, sleep disturbances, obesity and frequent infections.

Such work reveals that childhood adversity is a major public health issue. “Once you start understanding the prevalence of adversity in the general population, you can’t unsee it,” says Phil Fisher, a psychologist at the University of Oregon.

Fisher and other researchers are now working to understand why ACEs have such impacts on physical health. Childhood adversity, they are finding, has lasting effects on stress hormones, inflammation, brain development and gene regulation. By identifying such measurable physical changes, or biomarkers, the scientists hope to be able to pinpoint which kids are at greatest risk of long-term health effects — and provide a metric for studying the effects of treatments such as specialized therapies.

“The biomarkers can really help us to have a lot more precision in the ways that we provide support,” Fisher says. Already, the evidence has led many pediatricians to screen all their patients for ACEs.

A list of questions asked by researchers about people’s adverse childhood experiences.
In a landmark study begun in the 1990s, researchers asked adults about their home lives as children to identify the frequency of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The questions were later expanded to the list above, to include various types of neglect in addition to abuse and household challenges. Researchers who study how ACEs affect biology and health now recognize that the body reacts differently to different types of trauma.

Under the skin

One of the pathways linking adversity to physical illness involves the stress hormone cortisol, which plays a central role in the body’s fight-or-flight response. During infancy, interactions with parents and other caregivers shape the ways our bodies handle stress. When a newborn is hungry or scared, a flood of cortisol and other hormones causes the baby to cry out. When a caregiver soothes him or her, that experience helps teach the young brain how to turn the stress pathway off again.

But when care is absent or unpredictable, the system develops out of whack. Chemical tags called epigenetic marks can turn genes off or on. Put in the wrong place, these tags can cause the cortisol system to respond inappropriately to stress.

When child clinical psychologist Nicole Bush first heard that neglect and trauma imprint themselves onto our genes, it made perfect sense to her. At the time, Bush was a clinical intern in Chicago studying children from high-crime, low-resource neighborhoods. And something about these kids stuck out to her.

Check out Reset — An ongoing series exploring how the world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, its consequences and the way forward.

“All I could think about was that these children seemed to be physiologically different,” she says. They seemed on edge, overly sensitive to noises or minor distractions and more easily frustrated than other kids. They showed signs of stress like flushed faces or rapid breathing after small setbacks, and took more time to calm down. Bush realized that these were all symptoms of an overactive fight-or-flight system, and that these effects might be biologically measurable.

Bush now runs a study at the Child Trauma Research Center of the University of California, San Francisco, in search of those measurable biomarkers. She started out studying epigenetic marks on certain stress-related genes, but has since broadened her approach to include protein and genetic markers of inflammation, cellular aging and more.

For example, Bush’s team is using an epigenetic “clock” that estimates how much cells have aged based on epigenetic tagging patterns at 94 sites across the genome. Other such epigenetic clocks that were designed around adult samples have found a link between childhood adversity and advanced epigenetic age in adulthood, which is typically correlated with worse health. Bush is testing whether the same holds true for children using the new clock, which was designed around subjects up to 20 years old.

A schematic shows how childhood trauma leads to toxic stress.
Trauma and excessive adversity during childhood affect the body in several measurable ways, collectively termed “toxic stress.”  These include changes to stress hormone regulation, neurodevelopment and immune function. Many of these effects occur at the level of gene activity and are carried into adulthood thanks to chemical (epigenetic) changes that switch genes on and off. Toxic stress can affect behavior and psychology, as well as increase the risk for physical conditions such as inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases.

Other research groups are studying oxidative stress — the accumulation of highly reactive chemicals called free radicals that can damage DNA and cell structures. Usually, scavenger proteins within our cells can keep that burden down, but recent work with both animal experiments and adult people suggests that this system falters in response to excessive stress.

Fisher’s team recently published a pilot study examining a marker of oxidative stress called F2t-isoprostanes (IsoPs) in urine from 50 teenage girls who had experienced ACEs. Those with four or more ACEs had higher levels of IsoPs, the scientists found. The difference was small, and only significant in some analyses, but it’s an area Fisher says his team will keep exploring.

Researchers are also searching for biomarkers in the immune system that link ACEs to disease. High levels of inflammatory biomarkers such as the immune signaling molecule C-reactive protein have been found among adults with a history of ACEs. Such inflammation, when it’s ongoing, or chronic, is known to contribute to health problems such as depression, cardiovascular disease and autoimmunity.

Similar associations are now being found in children. For example, a study that follows the health of twins who were born in the UK in 1994 and 1995 — called the E-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study — found elevated C-reactive protein in 12-year-olds with depression and a history of physical or sexual abuse. Six years later, the same study found that C-reactive protein levels remained high in the now-18-year-old young women who had a history of ACEs. (Young men no longer showed this pattern, for unknown reasons.)

As researchers delve further, they are starting to learn that different kinds of ACEs leave behind different biomarkers. That same twin study, for example, found that an immune molecule linked to autoimmune and cardiovascular disease, called suPAR, was elevated in 18-year-olds with a history of violence in their lives but not those who had experienced neglect. Similarly, Fisher and his colleagues found that morning cortisol levels were higher in kids who had experienced emotional abuse, but lower in those who had experienced neglect.

A prisoner holds his children during a family visit.
Family hardships, such as having a parent in prison, are one of a variety of adverse childhood experiences that can increase risks of disease later in life. Here, children visit their imprisoned father for the first time in five months.CREDIT: ANDREW AITCHISON / GETTY IMAGES

Distinctions like these are vital for making biomarkers clinically useful, says Jack Shonkoff, a pediatric researcher at Harvard University. Shonkoff chairs the JBP Research Network on Toxic Stress, which is developing a suite of biomarkers to gauge excessive stress activation in children.

In 2019, researchers in Shonkoff’s network began measuring stress hormones from hair and saliva, and inflammatory and oxidative stress markers from blood, in 17 pediatric practices across the US. They also collected cheek swabs to do genetic and epigenetic analysis.

The next step will be to expand the study to 6,000 children aged 5 or younger from a diverse mix of backgrounds, with the aim of defining normal ranges for the biomarkers. From there, Shonkoff says, the team hopes to look for variations that track with exposure to different kinds of adversity.

Reversing ACEs’ effects

Eventually, researchers hope they can find ways to reverse the effects of adversity on the body. Already, some results hint that this may be possible, as Fisher explores in an article in the 2016 Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. More than a decade ago, for example, his team found that the salivary cortisol levels of 57 children in foster care reverted to normal after a specialized treatment program that included play therapy, extra training for foster parents and follow-up care. More recently, the team reported that this renormalizing effect on cortisol continued for at least six years in a couple dozen kids who remained in the study.

Just as there is variation in response to trauma, there will be variation in response to treatment, Shonkoff says. There are many types of therapies to choose from: group-based or family-based, some incorporating cognitive behavior therapy or physical activity. “We can’t just ask, ‘What’s the best program?’ — just like you can’t say, ‘What’s the best treatment for cancer?’” he says. Biomarkers could help sort out which interventions are best for which kids.

Bush’s team, for example, collected blood and saliva from 50 caregivers and their 2- to 6-year-old children who experienced trauma. The kids and parents participated in an intensive psychotherapy treatment aimed at improving parent-child relationships and child mental health. Bush says the findings, which are still to be published, suggest that kids and parents are less likely to respond to the treatment if the caregivers begin the program with high levels of a set of biomarkers of inflammation.

“There’s something about that inflammation that’s preventing families from learning and adapting and changing their mental and behavioral health,” she says. So far, the team has only analyzed the adults’ samples, but is now starting to measure the same inflammatory markers in samples from children, as well as cortisol levels, epigenetic changes and markers of oxidative stress.

A graphic shows increased risk of disease in adults who have experienced adverse childhood experiences.
Experiencing four or more adverse childhood experiences significantly ups the risk of developing certain diseases later in life. The bars indicate how many times more common a disease is among people with four or more ACEs: People who had this number of ACEs are 2.2 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, for example.

Building a panel of reliable biomarkers will help researchers address the big question around treatment for ACEs: Does reversing abnormal biomarkers actually improve health? For example, will a child whose inflammatory markers are brought down have fewer asthma attacks? Does addressing ACEs during childhood reduce the risks of adulthood diseases? These questions will take decades more to fully answer.

In California, where screening for ACEs has expanded thanks to Medicaid reimbursement, researchers have started analyzing blood and saliva samples from hundreds of children between 3 months and 11 years old who were also screened for ACEs. This effort aims to link ACE scores and overall health with biomarkers such as hormones, immune-related proteins and epigenetic changes. This will allow the team, based at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, to explore whether stress-reduction programs or other supportive interventions lead to improvements in the biomarkers and long-term mental and physical health, says Monica Bucci, a neuroscientist at the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco.

Even before those effects are understood, screening for ACEs may prove beneficial on its own, because it makes parents aware of the health risks their children may be facing, and encourages lifestyle changes that could help to lessen them. “It’s important to start moving the needle,” Bucci says. “Then the science will come.”

Amanda Keener is a freelance science journalist living in Littleton, Colorado, who’s fascinated by how the human body remembers life experiences. Find links to her other stories at and tweets at @ImmYOUnology.

The truth about lying

You can’t spot a liar just by looking — but psychologists are zeroing in on methods that might actually work

By Jessica Seigel  03.25.2021 (

Police thought that 17-year-old Marty Tankleff seemed too calm after finding his mother stabbed to death and his father mortally bludgeoned in the family’s sprawling Long Island home. Authorities didn’t believe his claims of innocence, and he spent 17 years in prison for the murders.

Yet in another case, detectives thought that 16-year-old Jeffrey Deskovic seemed too distraught and too eager to help detectives after his high school classmate was found strangled. He, too, was judged to be lying and served nearly 16 years for the crime.

They’re not, says psychologist Maria Hartwig, a deception researcher at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. The men, both later exonerated, were victims of a pervasive misconception: that you can spot a liar by the way they act. Across cultures, people believe that behaviors such as averted gaze, fidgeting and stuttering betray deceivers.

In fact, researchers have found little evidence to support this belief despite decades of searching. “One of the problems we face as scholars of lying is that everybody thinks they know how lying works,” says Hartwig, who coauthored a study of nonverbal cues to lying in the Annual Review of Psychology. Such overconfidence has led to serious miscarriages of justice, as Tankleff and Deskovic know all too well. “The mistakes of lie detection are costly to society and people victimized by misjudgments,” says Hartwig. “The stakes are really high.”

Tough to tell

Psychologists have long known how hard it is to spot a liar. In 2003, psychologist Bella DePaulo, now affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues combed through the scientific literature, gathering 116 experiments that compared people’s behavior when lying and when telling the truth. The studies assessed 102 possible nonverbal cues, including averted gaze, blinking, talking louder (a nonverbal cue because it does not depend on the words used), shrugging, shifting posture and movements of the head, hands, arms or legs. None proved reliable indicators of a liar, though a few were weakly correlated, such as dilated pupils and a tiny increase — undetectable to the human ear — in the pitch of the voice.

Three years later, DePaulo and psychologist Charles Bond of Texas Christian University reviewed 206 studies involving 24,483 observers judging the veracity of 6,651 communications by 4,435 individuals. Neither law enforcement experts nor student volunteers were able to pick true from false statements better than 54 percent of the time — just slightly above chance. In individual experiments, accuracy ranged from 31 to 73 percent, with the smaller studies varying more widely. “The impact of luck is apparent in small studies,” Bond says. “In studies of sufficient size, luck evens out.”

This size effect suggests that the greater accuracy reported in some of the experiments may just boil down to chance, says psychologist and applied data analyst Timothy Luke at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “If we haven’t found large effects by now,” he says, “it’s probably because they don’t exist.”

Table showing that many behavioral indicators are assumed to signal lying, but very few in fact do.
Common wisdom has it that you can spot a liar by how they sound or act. But when scientists looked at the evidence, they found that very few cues actually had any significant relationship to lying or truth-telling. Even the few associations that were statistically significant were not strong enough to be reliable indicators.

Police experts, however, have frequently made a different argument: that the experiments weren’t realistic enough. After all, they say, volunteers — mostly students — instructed to lie or tell the truth in psychology labs do not face the same consequences as criminal suspects in the interrogation room or on the witness stand. “The ‘guilty’ people had nothing at stake,” says Joseph Buckley, president of John E. Reid and Associates, which trains thousands of law enforcement officers each year in behavior-based lie detection. “It wasn’t real, consequential motivation.”

Samantha Mann, a psychologist at the University of Portsmouth, UK, thought that such police criticism had a point when she was drawn to deception research 20 years ago. To delve into the issue, she and colleague Aldert Vrij first went through hours of videotaped police interviews of a convicted serial killer and picked out three known truths and three known lies. Then Mann asked 65 English police officers to view the six statements and judge which were true, and which false. Since the interviews were in Dutch, the officers judged entirely on the basis of nonverbal cues.

The officers were correct 64 percent of the time — better than chance, but still not very accurate, she says. And the officers who did worst were those who said they relied on nonverbal stereotypes like “liars look away” or “liars fidget.” In fact, the killer maintained eye contact and did not fidget while deceiving. “This guy was clearly very nervous, no doubt,” Mann says, but he controlled his behavior to strategically counter the stereotypes.

Five Black men on stage at an ACLU awards luncheon.
In 1990, five young men were convicted of raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park the year before, after police disbelieved their claims of innocence. The men, popularly known as the Central Park Five, were completely exonerated of the crime and released in 2002 after years in prison. Here, they appear at an awards luncheon of the American Civil Liberties Union in 2019.CREDIT: MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES

In a later study, also by Mann and Vrij, 52 Dutch police officers did no better than chance at distinguishing true and false statements given by family members who’d murdered their relatives but denied it in anguished displays during televised press conferences used in the study. Notably, officers who performed the worst were those who felt that the emotional displays were genuine. But what did that signify? “If a husband killed his wife, he could be upset for all kinds of reasons, like remorse or getting caught,” says Mann. “Nonverbal behavior is so idiosyncratic. If you focus on the nonverbal behavior like emotions, you will trip up.”

Confirming these results on a large scale years later, Hartwig and Bond reviewed the literature for studies comparing people’s abilities to detect high- and low-stakes lies. They found no evidence that people were any better at detecting lies told by criminals or wrongly accused suspects in police investigations than those told by laboratory volunteers.

Something to hide

From serial killers to students fibbing in laboratory experiments, the lies in all these experiments were spoken. In a study published in 2019, Mann examined nonverbal deceit, such as when someone is trying to conceal illicit activity — a type of deception relevant to detecting bombers or smugglers. She recruited 52 university student volunteers and asked half of them to transport a laptop said to contain sensitive photographs on a ferry ride between two cities. The volunteers were told to try to blend into the crowd and not look “suspicious,” because people would be trying to identify them. The other half of the group were given a regular cell phone to transport, with no instructions to conceal what they were doing.

Check out Reset — An ongoing series exploring how the world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, its consequences and the way forward.

When Mann showed videos of the ferry rides to 104 other volunteers and asked them to pick out the “smugglers,” the spotters did no better than chance. In interviews afterward, the “smugglers” said they were nervous, but they consciously tried to act normal and control their nerves with tactics such as listening to music or using their phones.

Next, Mann raised the stakes. Half of a new group of 60 volunteers were given an envelope of Russian, Egyptian and Korean currency to conceal, while the other half didn’t “smuggle” anything. But this time, Mann sent two researchers onto the ferry to pace around and scrutinize the passengers, appearing to compare their faces to photos on a cell phone.

This time, 120 observers trying to pick out the “smugglers” on video guessed correctly just 39.2 percent of the time — well below chance. The reason, Mann says, is that the “smugglers” consciously made an effort to look normal, while the “innocent” control volunteers just acted naturally. Their surprise at the unexpected scrutiny looked to the observers like a sign of guilt.

The finding that deceivers can successfully hide nervousness fills in a missing piece in deception research, says psychologist Ronald Fisher of Florida International University, who trains FBI agents. “Not too many studies compare people’s internal emotions with what others notice,” he says. “The whole point is, liars do feel more nervous, but that’s an internal feeling as opposed to how they behave as observed by others.”

Studies like these have led researchers to largely abandon the hunt for nonverbal cues to deception. But are there other ways to spot a liar? Today, psychologists investigating deception are more likely to focus on verbal cues, and particularly on ways to magnify the differences between what liars and truth-tellers say.

A man in a white sweater leaving jail after his release, accompanied by several others.
Marty Tankleff, in white sweater, being released from prison after serving 17 years wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents. Officials thought that Tankleff’s claims of innocence must have been lies because he didn’t show enough emotion. There is no good evidence that you can reliably spot a liar by the way they act.CREDIT: ANDREW THEODORAKIS / NY DAILY NEWS VIA GETTY IMAGES

For example, interviewers can strategically withhold evidence longer, allowing a suspect to speak more freely, which can lead liars into contradictions. In one experiment, Hartwig taught this technique to 41 police trainees, who then correctly identified liars about 85 percent of the time, as compared to 55 percent for another 41 recruits who had not yet received the training. “We are talking significant improvements in accuracy rates,” says Hartwig.

Another interviewing technique taps spatial memory by asking suspects and witnesses to sketch a scene related to a crime or alibi. Because this enhances recall, truth-tellers may report more detail. In a simulated spy mission study published by Mann and her colleagues last year, 122 participants met an “agent” in the school cafeteria, exchanged a code, then received a package. Afterward, participants instructed to tell the truth about what happened gave 76 percent more detail about experiences at the location during a sketching interview than those asked to cover up the code-package exchange“When you sketch, you are reliving an event — so it aids memory,” says study coauthor Haneen Deeb, a psychologist at the University of Portsmouth.

The experiment was designed with input from UK police, who regularly use sketching interviews and work with psychology researchers as part of the nation’s switch to non-guilt-assumptive questioning, which officially replaced accusation-style interrogations in the 1980s and 1990s in that country after scandals involving wrongful conviction and abuse.

Slow to change

In the US, though, such science-based reforms have yet to make significant inroads among police and other security officials. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, for example, still uses nonverbal deception clues to screen airport passengers for questioning. The agency’s secretive behavioral screening checklist instructs agents to look for supposed liars’ tells such as averted gaze — considered a sign of respect in some cultures — and prolonged stare, rapid blinking, complaining, whistling, exaggerated yawning, covering the mouth while speaking and excessive fidgeting or personal grooming. All have been thoroughly debunked by researchers.

With agents relying on such vague, contradictory grounds for suspicion, it’s perhaps not surprising that passengers lodged 2,251 formal complaints between 2015 and 2018 claiming that they’d been profiled based on nationality, race, ethnicity or other reasons. Congressional scrutiny of TSA airport screening methods goes back to 2013, when the US Government Accountability Office — an arm of Congress that audits, evaluates and advises on government programs — reviewed the scientific evidence for behavioral detection and found it lacking, recommending that the TSA limit funding and curtail its use. In response, the TSA eliminated the use of stand-alone behavior detection officers and reduced the checklist from 94 to 36 indicators, but retained many scientifically unsupported elements like heavy sweating.

A security officer in uniform stands and watches a traveler, who is shown blurred in the foreground.
An officer of the US Transportation Security Administration watches travelers at an airport. The agency still uses behavioral indicators to pick out suspicious people, even though this has little scientific basis.CREDIT: SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES

In response to renewed Congressional scrutiny, the TSA in 2019 promised to improve staff supervision to reduce profiling. Still, the agency continues to see the value of behavioral screening. As a Homeland Security official told congressional investigators, “common sense” behavioral indicators are worth including in a “rational and defensible security program” even if they do not meet academic standards of scientific evidence. In a statement to Knowable, TSA media relations manager R. Carter Langston said that “TSA believes behavioral detection provides a critical and effective layer of security within the nation’s transportation system.” The TSA points to two separate behavioral detection successes in the last 11 years that prevented three passengers from boarding airplanes with explosive or incendiary devices.

But, says Mann, without knowing how many would-be terrorists slipped through security undetected, the success of such a program cannot be measured. And, in fact, in 2015 the acting head of the TSA was reassigned after Homeland Security undercover agents in an internal investigation successfully smuggled fake explosive devices and real weapons through airport security 95 percent of the time.

In 2019, Mann, Hartwig and 49 other university researchers published a review evaluating the evidence for behavioral analysis screening, concluding that law enforcement professionals should abandon this “fundamentally misguided” pseudoscience, which may “harm the life and liberty of individuals.”

Hartwig, meanwhile, has teamed with national security expert Mark Fallon, a former special agent with the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service and former Homeland Security assistant director, to create a new training curriculum for investigators that is more firmly based in science. “Progress has been slow,” Fallon says. But he hopes that future reforms may save people from the sort of unjust convictions that marred the lives of Jeffrey Deskovic and Marty Tankleff.

For Tankleff, stereotypes about liars have proved tenacious. In his years-long campaign to win exoneration and recently to practice law, the reserved, bookish man had to learn to show more feeling “to create a new narrative” of wronged innocence, says Lonnie Soury, a crisis manager who coached him in the effort. It worked, and Tankleff finally won admittance to the New York bar in 2020. Why was showing emotion so critical? “People,” says Soury, “are very biased.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated on March 25, 2021, to correct the last name of a crisis manager quoted in the story. Their name is Lonnie Soury, not Lonnie Stouffer.

Jessica Seigel is an award-winning journalist and New York University adjunct journalism professor. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the New York TimesSalon and National Geographic Traveler, on NPR, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @Jessicaseagull