Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Lying Brain: Lie Detection in Science and Science Fiction

It has been a couple of weeks since I've posted here, and I want to apologize for that. I do try to keep this updated pretty regularly, and the department certainly provides me with ample material. First we had Spring Break and then I came down with a cold, and between those two things I have been swimming upstream trying to catch up. That said, I think you'll agree that I'm returning with a bang.


I am very pleased to announce here the arrival of the first advanced copies of Melissa Littlefield's new book The Lying Brain: Lie Detection in Science and Science Fiction, which has just been printed by the University of Michigan Press. I have a copy of this book with me right now, and it looks beautiful!

Here is the book description, pasted in the press's website:

"Real and imagined machines, including mental microscopes, thought translators, and polygraphs, have long promised to detect deception in human beings. Now, via fMRI and EEG, neuroscientists seem to have found what scientists, lawyers, and law enforcement officials have sought for over a century: foolproof lie detection. But are these new lie detection technologies any different from their predecessors? The Lying Brain is the first book to explore the cultural history of an array of lie detection technologies: their ideological assumptions, the scientific and fictional literatures that create and market them, and the literacies required for their interpretation.

By examining a rich archive of materials about lie detection—from science to science fiction—The Lying Brain demonstrates the interconnections of science, literature, and popular culture in the development and dissemination of deception detection in the American cultural imagination. As Melissa Littlefield demonstrates, neuroscience is not building a more accurate lie detector; it is simply recycling centuries-old ideologies about deception and its detection."

Littlefield--who also has an appointment in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health--here uses the analytical tools associated with literary and cultural analysis in order to examine how scientific thinking around the fantasy of lie detection gets shaped and disseminated within various scientific and popular discourses. This work puts Littlefield at the leading edge of an emergent field of humanistic inquiry that I would characterize as a real departmental strength: Literature and Science. It is especially appropriate for us to be strong in this area, too, given the longstanding tradition of excellence in science and engineering fields here at The University of Illinois.

Congratulations, Melissa!

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