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Criminal Justice Conversations with David Onek: UCSF Prof. Emeritus of Psychology Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman, UCSF Professor Emeritus of Psychology,discusses how his research on facial expressions and emotions can improve public safety, the criticism he has received from colleagues for working with law enforcement, his discussions with the Dalai Lama about forgiveness and responsibility, the pros and cons of having his work portrayed on the TV show “Lie to Me,” and more. 

Paul Ekman Interview Highlights

Ekman on Criticism From Colleagues That He Works Too Closely with Law Enforcement:

"I think that’s nuts.  It’s so simple minded.  I usually say, do you want the police to make more mistakes, let more criminals go free, and innocent people be incarcerated or even executed?  They have to do a better job, and with the people that I work with, who are by and large people either doing counter-terrorism, or people doing homicide investigations, I’ve encountered at least as much integrity as I’ve encountered in the academic world."

Ekman on His Discussions with the Dalai Lama About Forgiveness and Responsibility:

"The issue in forgiveness has to do with what’s most likely to allow the harmed person to go forward.  And I think there’s pretty good evidence that if they’re able to forgive, it’s not going to fester. So, I think forgiveness, and the Dalai Lama says this, is of main benefit to the person who can forgive.  It’s of a secondary benefit to the person forgiven if it’s in a context of responsibility -- and what they can do to try to indicate their realization of their responsibility and any mending they can do, if there is any repair that can be done. The Buddhists have exercises that will help you move on the path towards forgiveness.  There’s nothing that’s unforgivable from [the Dalai Lama’s] vantage point."

Ekman on His Work Being Portrayed on TV’s "Lie to Me":

"Malcolm Gladwell wrote a profile about my work in the New Yorker, which was read by Brian Grazer, a major film and television producer, and he contacted me and said I want to do a TV series about this.  It was his idea, not mine. They told me, we’re going to do this with you or without you. I would have stopped it if I could have, because I think the unintended consequence was that it made it seem too easy to catch a lie.  And it isn’t easy.  Somebody sitting on a jury is going to either make a mistake because they saw something that’s really wrong on the show, which I couldn’t get them to correct, or they’re going to think they can really tell and don’t realize how hard it is."


The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek features in-depth, thirty-minute interviews with a wide range of criminal justice leaders: law enforcement officials, policymakers, advocates, service providers, academics and others.

The Podcast gets behind the sound bites that far too often dominate the public dialogue about criminal justice, to have detailed, nuanced conversations about criminal justice policy.

Podcast host David Onek is a Senior Fellow at Berkeley Law School and a former Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission.

You can find more information on the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast and listen to all past episodes on the Podcast web site.

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