“No Lie; Lie Detector Tests Don’t Get to the Truth”

Madison Taylor of the Jacksonville Daily News comments on Onslow County, North Carolina Commissioner Jack Bright’s proposal to give lie detector “tests” to Onslow County Board of Health employees who are the subject of complaints from the public. (For more regarding Jack Bright’s well-intentioned but ill-conceived proposal, see William Davis’ 8 November Jacksonville Daily News article “Onslow ups the ante for answers.”) Excerpt:

I’ve never taken a lie detector test. Then again, I’ve never been suspected of a crime, not a serious one anyway. Still, it probably boils down to who’s defining this stuff. For example, is spreading around a little baby powder in a crowded movie theater and yelling “ANTHRAX!” a crime or just plain stupid?

Sorry, that was a trick question. The answer, of course, is “both.” Our judges would have also accepted “are you kidding me? or “what would Adam Sandler do?” Thanks for playing anyway. We will withhold any swell parting gifts until the economy improves or people on “Saturday Night Live” stop making movies, whichever comes first.

Anyway, I’ve never been strapped to a lie detector because my most recent transgression — namely chronic lawn malfeasance — probably doesn’t rise to the level of felonious wrongdoing. Still, in my head, I can hear the Gestapo officer from “Hogan’s Heroes” threatening me with, “Mr. Taylor, we have veys of making you rake.”

But that’s not to say I’m out of the woods yet. This is because last week lie detector tests appeared in the news for reasons not really related to alleged criminal activity. One, of course, came from the Onslow County Board of Commissioners, motto, “‘Cops’ is our favorite show because many of us were actual cops even though we never got to play one on TV.” The idea was advanced publicly by Commissioner Jack Bright, a former officer with the Jacksonville Police Department, who said it would be the best way to get to the bottom of alleged perceived problems with the environmental health section of the county Health Department.

By using such technology, Bright reasoned, the commissioners could blow the lid off allegations of unfriendly behavior or arbitrary permitting by some inspectors and, therefore, magically solve the entire national problem of rude service in all walks of American life. For the record, rude service is America’s second-largest dirty little secret. It closely trails use of lie detector tests but comes in just above watching “Howard Stern” on TV.

The reasoning is faulty, however, for a lot of reasons.

For one, the use of lie detector tests outside of perhaps police criminal investigations or wartime interrogations, presume guilt not innocence.

For two, the test itself is so inaccurate it’s not even allowed in a court of law.

For three, guilty people are generally the ones morally bankrupt enough to know how to beat it. For four, it seems like the kind of thing that happens in really bad countries where rights are something thrown during fistfights at mob scenes. And for five, to quote my late grandfather, “It ain’t right.”

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