An Example of How the Myth of the Lie Detector Is Perpetuated

An article published today in a small town newspaper provides a good example of the sort of shoddy reporting that perpetuates the myth of the lie detector. Lisa Rogers reports for the Gadsden, Alabama Times:

Polygraphs useful law enforcement tool
By Lisa Rogers
Times Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 9:37 p.m.

A suspect in a sex crime confessed after failing a lie detector test and even confessed to trying to beat the test by doing research on the Internet.

There are several Web sites that claim to have information that teaches someone how to beat a test, said Fred Lasseter, a licensed polygraph examiner and investigator with the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office.

“They tell you things to do to try to beat the system,” Lasseter said, “but beating it takes years of practice. It is very difficult to try to manipulate the system.”

Polygraph operator Fred Lasseter is lying. It doesn’t take “years of practice” to learn how to beat a lie detector test, nor is it difficult. In peer-reviewed research (cited in the bibliography of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector), about half of test subjects were able to fool the polygraph with no more than 30 minutes of training. The fact that a stupid criminal failed to pass a lie detector test and confessed should not be misconstrued as evidence that 1) the polygraph is difficult to beat or 2) that the polygraph is accurate as a lie detector. It is neither.

The man who was suspected of the sex crime first denied the claims and agreed to take the test. When he took the test, he failed it and eventually admitted to the crime.

“He told me he thought he could go online and figure out how to beat it,” Lasseter said of the suspect.

Most of the information available online is based on the old-style analog machines, he said.

The sheriff’s office and most other agencies now have digital, computerized machines that are much more sensitive than the older ones, he said.

Here again, Lasseter is lying. The information on how to fool the lie detector that is freely available on sites such as AntiPolygraph.org does not depend in any way on the polygraph instrument having ink pens and rolling chart paper. Polygraph countermeasures are equally effective against computerized polygraph instruments. Moreover, computerized polygraph instruments are no better at detecting lies than the old-style pen-and-ink instruments. Computerization brings no more validity to polygraphy than it does to astrology.

Later in the article, Rogers fatuously parrots the claim that “Statistics have shown the tests are between 95 and 98 percent accurate.” Had this reporter done the most rudimentary of fact checking, she would know that such claims have been roundly rejected by scientists, among whom the consensus view is that polygraphy is without scientific basis. The only ones claiming 95-98% accuracy for the pseudoscience of polygraphy are the polygraph operators themselves–and credulous reporters like Rogers who don’t fact check their sources.

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2 Comments

  1. Who says the “stupid” criminal failed the test? He may have been told he failed the test just to see if he would confess. A sex offender may be evil, but he is not necessarily stupid.

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