How good are you at picking up signs that somebody is lying to you? Dr. Victoria Rubin is an expert in detecting deception. At the University of Western Ontario, where she’s an associate professor at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and director of the Language and Information Technologies Research Lab, she has made a career of studying languages and how people express themselves.
“I’ve been curious about the use of language and, actually, its misuse for nefarious purposes,” says Rubin, who earned both her masters in linguistics in 1997 and PhD in 2006 from Syracuse University. “I wanted to know how good people are at picking up signs of someone lying to them. And if they were to try lying themselves, would their speech be any different from that of truth-tellers.”
She specializes in information retrieval and natural language processing techniques that enable analyses of texts to identify, extract, and organize structured knowledge. Rubin and graduate students in her lab study complex human information behaviors that are partly expressed through language, such as deception, uncertainty, credibility, and emotions.
“My research on automated deception detection really picked up around 2015 when I stumbled across some evidence of intense online falsehoods and we were able to offer methodologies to identify them,” Rubin says. “That was pre-fake news hype and we’ve received a bit of media attention as we were a bit ahead of the wave with this research and we were already publishing works about various types of fakes.”
If you examine large volumes of data produced by liars versus data by truth tellers, there are objective, observable differences between the two kinds of data, Rubin says. It’s not a sure bet, but experts like Rubin can predict how likely some new and previously unseen text is to be a lie or not, with some degree of confidence.
She dives deeper into this topic in her book published in 2022, “Misinformation and Disinformation: Detecting Fakes with the Eye and AI.” The book is geared towards both students and professionals and examines the synthesis of artificial intelligence and psychology in detecting mis-/disinformation in digital media content. The goal is to “intervene and curtail this current global ‘infodemic,’” according to the book’s website.
A Passion for Languages
Born, raised, and educated in a Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, Rubin has always been passionate about languages. She can speak in up to six different languages, including French, Spanish, and Japanese, and she can occasionally get by in a few Slavic languages due to their similarities to her native Russian and Ukrainian.
For the past 25 years, Rubin’s working language has been English as she has spent more than half her life in North America. She lives with her husband and two teens in London, Ontario, but has relocated from country to country over the years and traveled extensively in Europe, Mexico, and Japan.
“How we use languages in the context of our everyday social lives has been my perpetual curiosity,” she says.
Since graduating from Syracuse’s School of Information Studies in 2006, Rubin has worked at the University of Western Ontario and is currently being peer-reviewed for promotion to a full professor position. She credits her time at Syracuse, and several faculty members, for helping boost her love of languages.
Rubin remembers working at Dean Emerita Liz Liddy’s Center for Natural Language Processing and how it inspired her to continue studying language research and computer science applications.
“Also, I loved working with Professor Emerita Barbara Kwasnik for her gentle but firm guidance. Professor Jeff Stanton was instrumental in psychological insights during my practicum with him,” says Rubin. “In brief, by the time I was graduating I was well positioned to seek a tenure-track position.”
Balancing Work and Life
Although she loves her work, Rubin is a big proponent of creating a good work-life balance. She advises iSchool students to work smarter, live wiser and ask themselves the following questions if they’re feeling burned out:
- Are you spending enough time on things that are intellectually stimulating?
- Are you being physically active enough?
- Are you doing fun things?
- Are you kind to others around you?
If you can say yes to most of these, you will likely have a rewarding and successful career. If you’re making too many compromises, you may need to re-evaluate your situation.
“The flexibility of an academic lifestyle is often over-sold. It works both ways since your to-do list and your working hours will only get longer once you’re on a tenure-track. I wish someone had told me to slow down a long time ago,” says Rubin.
She has been taking her own advice and focusing on things besides work that she loves, including Latin and ballroom dancing and sailing in the North Channel and Georgean Bay on Lake Huron with her family.
Rubin also plans to shift the type of research she does to something more positive. Instead of focusing on lies, she hopes to study subjective well-being and positivity in life as it relates to language.
“Research suggests that people feel truly happiest if they have fulfilling lives in spite of difficulties if they maximize positive emotions and minimize negative ones,” says Rubin. “Basically, gratitude and kindness to others will lead us to a better place, even in tough life situations.”