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Does He Have a Reason to Lie?

by Hans Bluedorn

Picture yourself in the aisle of the health food store. Before you are two boxes: One is green, the other is yellow. They both claim to offer the same benefits.

Trying to decide, you turn them over to read the back labels.

The green one says in bold letters:

“I’ve tried other memory supplements before, but the day I started using Superthinker Pills I noticed a difference. Now, I don’t forget things. I finally can remember where I put my keys. Superthinker Pills are better than “Photographic Memory Pills.” – Sam Sparks, postal worker.

The Yellow one says:

“Photographic Memory Pills are much better than Superthinker Pills. They have helped enormously with my memory retention. My wife told me ‘You didn’t forget our anniversary this year.’” – Carl Reno, president of Photographic Memory Pills, Inc.

So, which is better: Photographic Memory Pills or Superthinker Pills? People made positive claims for each. How can you decide?

Before you resort to "enney-meeney-miney-moe," let’s look at a factor that might help you decide. Ask yourself: Who might have a “reason to lie?”

Someone has a reason to lie if they would benefit by changing, distorting, or exaggerating what they saw or did.

So, how can you tell if someone has a reason to lie? Here are a couple questions to ask:

  1. Do they say things that make them look good? Maybe it makes them look brave, humble, or smart.
  2. Do they say things that help their interests? Maybe it promotes their business, supports some opinion they have, or keeps them out of trouble.

It is obvious that the president of Photographic Memory Pills, Inc.,has more of a reason to exaggerate the effects of Photographic Memory Pills than the postal worker has to exaggerate the benefits of SuperThinker Pills.

That is, the president of the pill companyhas a “reason to lie.” He has a good reason to say his product does what it is advertised to do, whether it does or not, because he wants to sell more pills.

While Sam Sparks may also have a reason to lie – he may be the brother-in- law of the president of SuperThinker Pills – we don’t know about it, and so we should consider him a more desireable witness.

So, why is it so important to know if someone has a reason to lie?

Unfortunately, when we know someone has a reason to lie, we still don’t know whether they actually ARE lying to us. Just because someone has a REASON to lie that doesn’t mean they ARE lying.

However, we do know that there is a possibility that we are being lied to. This should make us be wary. It should encourage us to look for more sources that agree, other sources that do not have a reason to lie.

In the case of the competing memory pills, we should look for recommendations for Photographic Memory Pills from people like Sam Sparks. Or look for independent studies from organizations which do not have an interest in promoting one product over another.

Sometimes, we can be fairly certain there is no lying going on.

Officer Carson: “My radar is busted, but it looked like you were going pretty fast back there. How fast were you going?”
Motorist: “Sorry, officer, I was going 56 and the speed limit was 45. I was speeding.”

Don’t you wish everybody was this honest? Both Officer Carson and the motorist would have benefited IF they lied about what happened. But it is unlikely that either of them is lying because they are both saying things that hurt their own interests. If what they say actually hurts their interests, they have no reason to lie, so their testimony is very strong.

However, when examining someone’s testimony, it is important to be sure they really DON’T have a reason to lie.

Prosecuting Attorney: “Mr. Fallon, you must know your wife very well, and love her very much. She has been accused of murder. Is she capable of it?”
Mr. Fallon: “I’m really sorry to say it, as much as I love her and all, but she’s somebody you don’t want as an enemy. I can easily see her bumping off anybody who got in her way.”

Right now, it appears Mr. Fallon has no reason to lie.

Defense Attorney: “You say you love your wife very much?
Mr. Fallon: “Yes.”
Defense Attorney: “Then why is it that you filed for a divorce six months ago? You stated in your reasons that you no longer loved each other, and that you wished ‘she would go to prison or something.’”
Mr. Fallon: “Well, I changed my mind.”

Now we can see that Mr. Fallon really does have a reason to lie – he wants to get rid of his wife. A little research is always important when trying to determine whether someone has a reason to lie.


This quiz is for 12-18 year olds. Read each example and, from what is said, decide if they have a reason to lie. Give your answer, explaining why, below each and send it back to me. I will give out one “Fallacy Detective Scholarship” (a free book) to the FIFTH person to answer them all correctly.


1. Bert: “Lets go to see The Flying Bumpkins tonight.”
Scotty: “I don’t know. My mom doesn’t like me seeing movies that have flying creatures in them.”
Bert: “Aw, its not about flying creatures. “Flying” only means they run very fast.”

2. General to his troops: “I am afraid men. I am afraid of tomorrow’s battle. It appears the enemy is too strong for us. I fear that we will be massacred.”

3. “Howard Dean is a candidate that can energize people to get to the polls, a candidate that can raise the money to be heard, and a candidate that can draw clear distinctions between himself and George Bush.” – Andrew Stern, Union President of Service Employees International

4. “The green mamba is the [most] dreaded snake species of Africa. Treat it with great respect. It is considered one of the most dangerous snakes known. Not only is it highly venomous, but it is aggressive and its victim has little chance to escape from a bite.” From "The Illustrated Guide to Poisonous Snakes."

5. “Sir Knight, I know not who thou art, but I do pledge my knightly word that thou art the most potent knight that ever I have met in all my life.” – King Arthur

6. “I’ve been taking Focus Factor since we introduced it two years ago. I wouldn’t work a day without it.” – Rob Graham – President of Vital Basics (which makes “Focus Factor”)

7. “The Gold Market, which is currently at $386 an ounce, in predicted by experts to have the explosive upside potential of reaching up to $1,500 an ounce.” – United States Rare Coin & Bullion Reserve (which sells gold coins).

8. “As a whole, the [Russian] armed forces are only 75-80 percent equipped with fully functioning ammunition and technology, and of this, modern weapons make up less than 20 percent.” – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov

9. “Homeschooled children and youth develop strong ties with their parents and siblings. Research shows that they are also socially, emotionally, and psychologically healthy and strong.” – Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling, by Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., head of National Home Education Research Institute

10. Ely: “Do I believe in aliens from other planets? I sure do. I’ve seen ‘em. I was standing out on my back porch one day when I saw this big hovering saucer. It landed in my back yard. A door opened up and these little green men came down a ladder. They walked up to me and asked me in squeaky voices if there were any good Chinese Buffets in the area. I told them about he one around the corner and they said “thank you” – real polite like – got back in their machine and flew off. Yes sir. I’ve seen aliens. I sent my story to this UFO magazine and they printed it.”

11. “Black men in service to the South were such common sights that, not only did Northern officers and enlisted men write about the service to the South by blacks, but also a British officer reported on the service rendered the South by its black soldiers.” – -from a book called “The South Was Right!”

Copyright December 17, 2003, all rights reserved. 4982 views

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