The Truth Behind Lie to Me

Science of Lie to Me

As featured on the Lie to Me website (

June 6, 2017

The Truth Behind Lie to Me

The Truth Behind Lie to Me

The beginning

It was the very successful producer Brian Grazer’s idea, not mine. Googling him, I learned that Brian had produced A Beautiful Mind, and many other blockbusters. One of his assistants called, asking for a meeting to discuss creating a TV series based on my research. Would I fly down to L.A. (at Brian’s expense) to discuss it, he asked? I told his assistant that planes fly both ways; if they came up here I would be glad to explore it further and if I didn’t have to travel I wouldn’t charge them for the first hour of my time. He didn’t budge; months went by. Then when I had to be in L.A. to meet with some friends living there on another matter, I let the assistant know I could be available.

‘Lie to Me’ on my terms

Before I was fully seated in Brian’s Beverly Hills office, I told him I wasn’t interested in a TV series based on my work. David Nivens, who would become the producer of the TV series, explained they were going to do the series with or without me. Because of my writings and previous TV interviews, my cooperation wasn’t essential. However, If I did cooperate, Nivens explained, I would be able to have some control over what they created, they would pay me for my time, I would be able to review each script before it was shot and make suggestions (which I later learned they didn’t have to follow) and I could rule certain subjects out. I said they could not use anything about my meetings with the Dalai Lama, and they agreed.

I also said that the actor who was to play the scientist researching deception (me) could not be an American, Jewish, married, have children, or a personality similar to mine. I thought these constraints would give me some privacy, as he wouldn’t be much like me. Tim Roth fit my requirements and was recruited to play Dr. Lightman, the deception researcher. I met Sam Baum, a young writer who was to supervise the team of writers they hired, and read one of his short stories. I liked Sam, and found his writing sample impressive. Over the next year I was to go down to the film studio in L.A. nearly every week, answering many questions from the writers, and sometimes coaching the actors about how to make a particular facial expression. It was a lot of fun but too demanding, given my other commitments, which is why I invited my former student, Erika Rosenberg, to share some of the work.

Behind the scenes

The producers did show me the scripts a few days before they were shot, but sometimes kept in the script ideas I told them had no scientific basis or were contradicted by the science. Their defense: ‘It’s so helpful for the story, we can’t take it out’. To deal with my complaints, they agreed to put on their website a weekly blog I wrote entitled, “The Truth about Lie to Me – Separating the Facts from the Fiction.” I opened the blog with the caution that because they had only about fifty minutes for each program, problems had to be solved more quickly than I was usually able to do in real life and with more certainty than I usually had. Despite my cautionary warning I worried that program viewers when later sitting on a jury would mistakenly think they could tell whether a criminal suspect was lying. The price paid, unfortunately, for putting lie-catching on the front burner for the American public.

In the three years that the show ran, 48 episodes were aired, with the first one on January 21, 2009. The series won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite TV Crime Drama in 2011. It was shown in many countries; I still get inquiries when it plays somewhere around the world.

Everything went smoothly except for dealing with certain cast members. There were some who had trouble memorizing their lines, a necessity because TV production shoots each scene multiple times from different angles, weaving them together later. Eventually, Tim Roth became increasingly dissatisfied having to talk about science, even though he was playing a scientist. Market research had shown that the popularity of the show (and it was a hit) was in part, at least, due to what viewers said they learned by watching it.

In the end, the producers had no choice, sneaking in as much as they could before Tim would refuse to do any more. The ratings went down along with the amount of science in each program. In the market research done to find out why, viewers complained that they were no longer learning anything about lying. I didn’t really care, as after the first year the show had accomplished what I sought: bring public attention to the issues involved in lying and lie-catching.

Life after ‘Lie to Me’

On my weekly blog (“The Truth about Lie to Me”), I invited people to go to my website and subscribe to a free newsletter, which over time developed 140,000 subscribers. Through the publicity I received because of Lie to Me, I met Ariana Huffington, who gave me a named platform on her Huffington Post. I continue to put the short pieces I write in that platform about twice a month and also mail them to the newsletter subscribers. I resist the temptation to give my opinions about current events, trying to only comment on those matters that directly pertain to my areas of expertise.

After the first very successful year of Lie to Me, the writer/show runner, Sam Baum, resigned after responding to the complaints of his fiancé that she never saw him. (They then married and now have two children.) Once Sam left, Grazer brought in a new team of writers, who had been successful in writing about crime in Chicago. They knew nothing about my work and didn’t seem to want to know. I had little contact with them and withdrew from involvement in the show, unless pressed. I rarely was.

One lasting personal benefit of the show was learning about Arnold Palmers, a drink that mixes iced tea with lemonade. It was the favorite of the Hollywood executives I lunched with in their officials-only dining room. It remains my favorite drink.


Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you. Visit

Rent A Womb

Surrogacy and the Rights of the Child

May 9, 2017

by Mary Ann Mason and Tom Ekman


Mary Ann Mason is the COO of the Paul Ekman Group and the wife of psychologist, Paul Ekman. She is a national expert in children’s rights, child custody issues and family law and policy. Tom Ekman is a writer, teaches environmental science and is Paul Ekman’s son.Their new book, Babies of Technology, was recently published in April 2017 (Yale).


Surrogacy and the Rights of the Child

The surrogate mother option, sometimes called “rent-a-womb,” has caused far more legal difficulties and provoked greater emotional concern than sperm or egg donation. In the U.S., not all states allow surrogacy, but those that do, support a huge industry which caters to both domestic and international clients. U.S. surrogates offer the advantage that any baby born in the U.S. is automatically a U.S. citizen. The states that support surrogacy also welcome same sex couples. Internationally, surrogacy is often banned or limited to heterosexual couples who are infertile. Most often these nations across the world who ban surrogacy base it on “the best interest of the child.”

Traditional surrogacy, in which the surrogate mother is also the biological mother, may be the oldest form of assisted reproduction. Genesis tells of Abraham’s servant Haga bearing a child to be raised by his genetic father, Abraham, and his infertile wife Sarah. His name was Ishmael.

The modern version of surrogacy, which became available once in vitro fertilization was possible, is gestational surrogacy. The surrogate is implanted with an embryo and carries the child to term. The surrogate is not the genetic mother. It is most often the embryo created by the couple who retained the surrogate, but in many cases, the egg is a donor egg. The child will have no genetic relationship to the surrogate. The genetic mother may be either the “intentional” mother who arranged the deal, or an anonymous egg donor.

No state law has shown concern for “the best interest of the child” in tackling the surrogacy issue. In 1993, the law in California stated that “the woman who gives birth” is the mother. Most states have been either silent on the issues or have forbade surrogacy. In the first real challenge to this law, the California Supreme Court did not dwell on the significance of pregnancy and childbirth, or on the genetic connection between the child and Ms. Calvert, the woman who contracted with the surrogate. Instead, borrowing from intellectual property law, the court articulated a new doctrine of “intentional motherhood”:

When the two means (genetic tie and giving birth) do not coincide in the same woman, she who intended to bring about the birth of a child that she raised as her own–is the natural mother under California law.

With this reasoning, the court awarded the child to the Calverts.

The lone dissenter, Judge Joyce Kennard recognizing that both women had substantial motherhood claims, asked what happened to consideration of “the best interests of the child?” Criticizing the concept of intentional motherhood, she pointed out,

The problem with this argument, of course, is that children are not property. Unlike songs and inventions, rights in children cannot be sold for consideration or made freely available to the public.

After the Calvert v. Johnson decision, California became a surrogacy destination, drawing intentional parents and surrogates from other states, and also from other countries which restrict the practice. California also allows the client to choose the child’s sex which appeals to many clients — particularly those from China, who prefer boys. There are numerous surrogacy agencies in California as gestational surrogacy has become the preferred option for most infertile couples. It has also become the standard choice for the growing numbers of same-sex partners.

The massive 2015 earthquake in Nepal shed light on the complicated world of international fertility tourism. In the aftermath, Israelis – with the help of the Israeli government and medical planes – flew to rescue their newborn babies. Most of these were babies of gay couples (Israel does not permit same-sex male couples to retain a surrogate, despite being billed as the “IVF capital of the world.”) Altogether, 26 babies were rescued.

Nepal is one of the few countries that allow same-sex male couples to use surrogates. In the past, India and Thailand were popular options, but both countries have changed their regulations to prevent gay couples from becoming parents there. The cost of surrogacy in Nepal is a fraction of what it is in the U.S. All of the surrogates are Indian nationals, but they carry out the pregnancy in Nepal.

The multinational ART origins of the Greengold baby, featured on National Public Radio, are incredible. The sperm came from Israel, where it was frozen and flown to Thailand to meet a South African egg donor. After the egg was fertilized, the embryo traveled to Nepal and was implanted in the Indian woman who served as the surrogate mother.

Gestational surrogacy also opens up the whole realm of using designer eggs as a possibility. Some clients simply want the best egg possible – tall, intelligent, attractive – rather than a traditional surrogate’s genetics. There is a huge market for premium eggs, which can be purchased from large cryobanks or even online. This can create a situation in which a child effectively has three mothers: an egg donor mother, a surrogate mom who carried and gave birth to the baby, and an intentional mother — the client in the contract.

What are the children’s rights, if any, in this contentious area? Should the child have the right to know the identity of their surrogate and the surrogate’s medical and genetic information when they turn 18? Do the children have the right to be protected from potential damage in utero from a surrogate who may have bad health habits or carry a disease? Can the in utero experience affect the expression of their genes (a growing area of study known as epigenetics)? How do other countries deal with these issues, if they allow surrogacy at all?


The entire discussion of medical issues and surrogacy is shifting toward the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the way one’s environment can cause certain genes to “express” themselves in the individual…and possibly their offspring. One study found a link between a mother’s diet throughout her life — i.e., prior to impregnation — and her offspring’s risk of future obesity. Mounting evidence suggests ova and sperm can become damaged by habits such as smoking. Even more remarkably, epigeneticists are starting to observe multi-generational “genetic scars”. For example, offspring of parents with extreme wartime trauma — such as the WWII famine in the Netherlands, or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia — show a high-incidence of diseases like diabetes.

Epigenetics is still an area of study that can quite appropriately be called embryonic. There are simply too many genetic unknowns in this area at this time to understand the true implications of surrogacy on the health, and consequently rights, of children. What we do know is that there is a rising surge of evidence to support the idea that genetic expression – the on/off switches of our DNA – play an important role in the health of our children.

A Brave New World

A brave new world will be one in which we protect our children in brave new ways. What are the rights of the child that need to be protected when children are borne by surrogates? First, the right to know the identity of their biological parents and their surrogate. Contact with surrogates should be encouraged, but not required. Second, the right to have a healthy surrogate who is medically-evaluated on a regular basis before and during the pregnancy. Third, the right to have their biological parents, legal parents, and surrogate listed on their birth certificate. Fourth, the right to citizenship in the country where they are born, or one of their legal parents is a citizen. Fifth, universal standards to insure that surrogates are treated equally in all countries. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 did put forth some basic protections for children, including that all actions dealing with children should be “in the best interests of the child.” The United States is the only country in the United Nations that did not ratify this Convention.


Mason was a Professor in the Graduate School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley from 1989 to 2008. She received a B.A. cum laude from Vassar College, a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Rochester, and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco. She taught American history and practiced law for several years before joining the faculty at Berkeley in 1989, where she has taught children and family law and women’s issues in the law. She is considered a national expert on children’s rights, child custody issues and family law and policy, frequently addressing national and international media, conferences, and workshops.

Mary Ann Mason lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband, psychologist Paul Ekman.


Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.