“A Boom in Polygraph Studies”

Steven Aftergood reports in today’s edition of the electronic newsletter Secrecy News:

A BOOM IN POLYGRAPH STUDIES

Now that Congress has drastically expanded the number of national security personnel who are subject to polygraph testing, the government is belatedly initiating new studies to test the validity of the polygraph.

The Department of Energy will release $860,000 to the National Academy of Sciences for an 18 month study, the Albuquerque Journal reported December 5:

http://www.abqjournal.com/news/191809news12-05-00.htm

Senator Jeff Bingaman, who had requested the study over a year ago, said in a press release: “The distinguished scientists and engineers who work at Sandia and Los Alamos deserve to know whether polygraphs produce valid results and this study will help make that determination.” See:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2000/12/bingaman.html

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense announced in Commerce Business Daily today that it is seeking a contractor to perform a new study on polygraph validity.

“The goal of this project is to manipulate volunteers into telling specific lies during polygraph examination to test the accuracy of the polygraph examination procedure,” the DoD announcement said. See:

http://services.sciencewise.com/content/index.cfm?objectid=2684

But there is a methodological difficulty in such tests that tends to render them useless: There is no way to ensure that a volunteer who is instructed to lie in an artificial setting will present the same physiological signs as an actual liar in a setting where the stakes are genuine.

The irony of these new polygraph studies is that they follow, rather than precede, the expansion of polygraph testing. This reflects the fact that the congressional radicals who are driving security policy are largely indifferent to questions of scientific validity.

Worse, the new National Academy study might make it more difficult to repeal the latest increase in polygraph testing in the short term. This is because proponents will be able to argue that no action should be taken during the eighteen months that the matter is under review by the Academy.

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