Virtual Voodoo -- The Lie Detector Lie


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  • 8/8/2019 Virtual Voodoo -- The Lie Detector Lie




    I don't know anything about lie detectors other than theyscare the hell out of people. Richard M. NixonWith the full National Research Council report now out on polygraphy,

    1perhaps it is time

    to point out the contention of many scientists that psychophysiological detection of deception

    examinations (PDDs), i.e., polygraph exams, are so frequently unreliable or just blatantly wrong

    that they must be jettisoned by law enforcement and by the national security apparatus. In the view

    of these scientists, the polygraph is no more than an interrogation tool used to extract confessions

    from the nave and impressionable. That=s all. The polygrapher does his job making SWAGs --

    Scientific, Wild Ass Guesses -- and by sometimes maligning good people and by putting law

    enforcement and intelligence-gathering organizations at great risk since compulsive liars,psychopaths, sociopaths, and trained spies can pass the PDD exams so easily.

    Law enforcement doesn=t need more good guys on its major narcotics squads, or in other

    sensitive units. Prosecutors don=t need to charge more innocent people with crime, nor should

    good people be prevented from becoming peace officers or intelligence operatives simply because

    a polygrapher thought theymightbe lying -- nor allow liars to be hired based on clearance by

    virtual voodoo. In particular, police and intelligence agencies need to reinstitute full-scale

    psychological testing and interviews for those they want to hire. They need to do more careful and

    far-reaching background checks, not only prior to hiring, but in mid-career as well (if not more

    frequently). If scientific lie detection is really needed, law enforcement and intelligence agencies

    will likely find it in the very expensive functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI) and not inthe virtual voodoo associated with polygraphy.

    There is nothing new in such conclusions. Two decades ago, the Congressional

    Committee on Government Operations had the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) study

    the effectiveness of the polygraph: Despite the widespread belief at NSA, CIA, and DOD that the

    polygraph is a useful screening tool. . . . OTA concluded that the available research evidence does

    not establish the scientific validity of the polygraph for this purpose.2

    1 National Research Council Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph, ThePolygraph and Lie Detection (Wash., DC: National Academies Press, 2002).

    2Office of Technology Assessment, Scientific Validity of Polygraph Testing: A Research Review

    and Evaluation, Technical Memorandum OTA-TM-H.15 (Washington, DC: U.S. Congress, November

    1983). See conclusions at 7.

  • 8/8/2019 Virtual Voodoo -- The Lie Detector Lie



    Moreover, on February 3, 1997, the head of the FBI's polygraph unit, Special Agent James

    Murphy, filed an affidavit in a military case in Norfolk, Virginia,3cautioning against the use of the

    polygraph and pointing out its shortcomings:

    2. It is the policy of The Department of Justice to oppose all attempts by defensecounsel to admit polygraph results as evidence and to refrain from seeking theadmission of favorable examinations which may have been conducted during theinvestigatory stage of a case. (see United State's Attorney's Manual ' 9-13.310).3. The FBI uses the polygraph as an investigative tool and cautions that the resultsshould not be relied upon to the exclusion of other evidence or knowledgeobtained during the course of an investigation.4. This policy is based upon the fact that, a) the polygraph technique has notreached a level of acceptability within the relevant scientific community, b) scientificresearch has not been able to establish the true validity of polygraph testing incriminal applications, c) there is a lack of standardization within the polygraphcommunity for training and for conducting polygraph examinations.5. I am fully aware of the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Daubert v. DowPharmaceutical 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and believe, based upon experience, trainingand practical application that polygraph results do not reach the standards set bythe court in that case.We will forego here a litany of examples of the innocent who have been tried and

    convicted primarily because police and prosecutors thought failure of a polygraph test to be

    utterly convincing, while many a guilty party has gone free for the same reason -- including those

    later admitting to guilt of murder(s).4 How is it that the best polygraphers can have been so

    wrong? Moreover, the media have been of little help with their constant references to the

    polygraph as a Alie detector.@ A selected bibliography is followed by a sampling of expert court

    testimony which indicates the very sad state in which polygraphy languishes.

    3The case was U.S. v. Ensign Patrick J. Jacobson, USN, and the Murphy affidavit is available at . However, despite the hard research conclusions of the OTA (cited

    above), the positive and even bullish position of the FBI on the systematic use of the polygraph for pre-employment screening is evident from the summary at

    4There are many notorious examples, including Gary Ridgway, the prolific Green River Killer,who passed his lie detector test in 1984 and then continued killing ( Another is Mark Hofmann, whose expert polygrapher is bewildered by

    tough cross-examination in the cases excerpted below.
  • 8/8/2019 Virtual Voodoo -- The Lie Detector Lie



    Selected Bibliography

    Brain Scans Can Reveal Liars,New Scientist, 10:50 (November 12, 2001), online at [see also ].

    Carroll, Robert Todd, The Skeptic

    s Dictionary (John Wiley & Sons, 2003), at Polygraph (LieDetector), available now at .

    Cha, Ariana Eunjung, Lie-Detecting Devices: Truth or Consequences? Unproven But Popular,Mainstream Systems Can Be Used Without Subjects Knowledge,Washington Post,

    Sunday, August 18, 2002, Page A1.

    Honts, Charles R., "The Effects of Simple Physical Countermeasures on the Physiological

    Detection of Deception," masters thesis (Blackburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute

    & State Univ., 1982).

    Honts, Charles R., "Countermeasures and the Physiological Detection of Deception: APsychophysiological Analysis," doctoral dissertation (SLC: Univ. of Utah, 1986).

    Dr. Honts is best known for his spectacular failure to detect the lies of murderer MarkHoffman.

    Kleiner, M., ed.,Handbook of Polygraph Testing (London: Academic Press, 2002).

    National Research Council Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph, ThePolygraph and Lie Detection (Wash., DC: National Academies Press, 2002). The NRC

    is chartered by Congress as the operational arm of the National Academy of Sciences,and this report was funded by the U.S. Dept of Energy (DOE).

    National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences news release, APolygraph

    Testing Too Flawed for Security Screening,@ October 8, 2002, available at .

    Office of Technology Assessment, Scientific Validity of Polygraph Testing: A Research Review

    and Evaluation, Technical Memorandum OTA-TM-H.15 (Wash., DC: U.S. Congress,

    November 1983). See conclusions at chapter 7.

    Piller, Charles, "Scientists Give the Lie to Polygraph Testing,"Los Angeles Times, Oct 9, 2002,

    pp. A1,A13.

    Piller, Charles, AAmid Surge in Popularity, Lie is Put to the Polygraph,@Los Angeles Times, Oct

    14, 2002, p. A20.

    Raskin, David C., ed., Psychological Methods in Criminal Investigation and Evidence (SpringerPublishing.,1989). Prof. Raskin (who has had several noteworthy failures to detect lies)

    was Dr. Charles Honts= mentor at the University of Utah.

  • 8/8/2019 Virtual Voodoo -- The Lie Detector Lie



    Spice, Byron, AHow Not to Catch a Spy: Use a Lie Detector,@Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh), October9, 2002.

    Vedantam, Shankar, AThe Polygraph Test Meets Its Match: Researchers Find Brain Scans Can

    Be Powerful Tools in Detecting Lies,@Washington Post, Monday, November 12, 2001,p. A2.

    Williams, Douglas Gene,How to Sting the Polygraph (Chickasha, OK: Sting Publications,


    Worrall, Simon, The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art ofForgery (E. P. Dutton, 2002).

    Zaid, Mark S., AFailure of the Polygraph,@Washington Post, Tuesday April 16, 2002, p. A19;

    available at .

  • 8/8/2019 Virtual Voodoo -- The Lie Detector Lie



    Court Testimony (excerpts):

    COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS V. LOUISE WOODWARD, Before Judge J. Zobel, Middlesex, ss SuperiorCourt, No. 97-433 Criminal Session, Monday, July 14, 1997, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Testimony of Dr. Charles R.

    Honts (PhD Univ. of Utah) re Dr. David C. Raskin (Honts = treacher and Professsor Emeritus, Univ. of Utah), murdererMark Hoffman, and their failed polygraphy. Excerpt from questioning by Assistant District Attorney L