Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Polygraph - Complete Nonsense? (Just Skeptics Episode 6)

For episode 6 of the Just Skeptics podcast we were joined once more by Rick Owen, who talked at great length about lie detectors. You can listen to this episode (and more) by searching iTunes for "Just Skeptics" or by visiting the Just Skeptics blog. He was kind enough to write this accompanying piece for us:

As with my rant in episode 2, my soap-box session on episode 6 of the Just Skeptics could have gone on for hours, and there are so many more things that could be said about it. I’m not going to give you a full transcript of the podcast, you will have listen to the podcast, but here are some extra points.

As I mention, polygraph operators are “trained”, even certified. In some states they may even enjoy the tacit government approval of needing to be licensed. But this training can be completed in 7-12 weeks. That’s not a lot for a thorough understanding of the human mind under stressful conditions, and the ability to tease out genuine deception from the other possibly causes of stress during the polygraph examination.

Polygraph advocates are prone to pointing out the difficulty of testing the effectiveness of the polygraph, because you can’t ethically simulate the jeopardy that a suspect would be under in real-life, while in lab-conditions. Of course, this must also make it very difficult to test polygraphy students properly when they are in training. I think students test one another in a polygraph course. Consequently, since it’s unlikely anyone would shell-out $5,000 unless they really believed it worked, I guess that means that all polygraph students/examiners have nothing whatsoever to hide. Surely a good reason to be very suspicious of them…

I made passing reference to the introduction of lie detector tests for sex offenders as part of their probation. A Times article here  explains it. I realize that no one is going to be campaigning for the rights of sex offenders anytime soon, but even from a “lock’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” perspective, a lie detector is a flawed way of trying to protect the public.

The shocking waste of tax-payers’ money by the Department of Work and Pensions performing trials lie detectors is even more shocking when you read the full story, exposed by the Ministry Of Truth in this excellent article: - I would much rather they kept the money for things like pensions.

You can read an article by Olaf Lippold about his physiological research here:
Working as a scientist in the 1950s, it’s impossible for me to imagine Olaf without a pipe.

The Register did a piece about lie detectors which I would be a fool not to commend to you:

The Tim Roth TV show Lie To Me is on Fox, but nonetheless, try doing the tests on the website here: 
and if you haven’t watched all of The Wire, then you really ought to. You owe it to yourself.

Last but not least;
The website we all need to know to protect ourselves from the vicissitudes of lie detectors. Thanks for listening, and remember, lies are social glue!  

- Rick Owen
Rick Owen is a Manchester-based IT project manager with a physics degree and an interest in skepticism. He is a member of the Greater Manchester Skeptics board and has not yet admitted to a gambling problem. You can follow him on twitter @Rick_Owen

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