Doug Williams, RIP

Douglas Gene Williams
(6 October 1945 – 19 March 2021)

It is with deep sadness that we report that longtime polygraph critic Douglas Gene Williams died on Friday, 19 March 2021, after an illness. He has been cremated.

Williams, a former polygraph operator with the Oklahoma City Police Department, quit his job in 1979 and began publicly campaigning for the abolishment of polygraphy from the American workplace. In 1985, he testified against polygraphy before the U.S. House of Representatives in a hearing that helped bring about passage of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.

Williams featured prominently in the CBS 60 Minutes report, “Truth and Consequences,” which aired on 11 May 1986 and documented workplace polygraph abuse.

In 1997, Williams launched, a website through which he sold his manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph,” which explains how to pass a polygraph “test” whether or not one is telling the truth. Williams later offered in-person training on the methods outlined in his manual.

Williams’ manual soon became the core of the federal polygraph school’s course on polygraph countermeasures. So concerned was the federal polygraph community about the public availability of the kind of information Williams taught that a senior instructor at the federal polygraph school, then called the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, publicly suggested that teaching it should be outlawed.

In 2012, federal agents targeted Williams for entrapment in a sting operation dubbed Operation Lie Busters, as a consequence of which he was criminally charged in 2014. Ultimately pleading guilty, Williams was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of supervised release during which time he was prohibited from engaging in any polygraph-related activity.

Released from prison in 2017 and from supervised release in 2020, Williams had resumed publicly offering instruction on how to pass the polygraph.

Also in 2020, Doug Williams’ life story, as told to writer Jack Straw, was published under the title, False Confessions: The True Story of Doug Williams and His Crusade against the Polygraph Industry. (A review by is available here.)

Williams is survived by his mother, Doris, of Chickasha, Oklahoma and a sister, Janet. He was preceded in death by younger brothers Michael and Donald.

Book Review: False Confessions: The True Story of Doug Williams and His Crusade Against the Polygraph Industry

In 2012, former Oklahoma City Police Department polygraph operator-turned-critic Douglas Gene Williams published his autobiography under the title, From Cop to Crusader: My Fight Against the Dangerous Myth of “Lie Detection.” In 2014, he released a second edition, adding an account of the raid conducted by federal agents on his home and office as part of Operation Lie Busters, a federal investigation that targeted individuals providing instruction on how to pass or beat a polygraph “test.”

In 2015, Williams was sentenced to two years in prison for teaching undercover agents how to pass the polygraph. While incarcerated, he met Jack Straw, a fellow inmate and former Chicago police captain, with whom he has collaborated to retell his life story, now published under the title False Confessions: The True Story of Doug Williams and His Crusade Against the Polygraph (Unit 2 Creations: 2020).

Asked for comment about the choice of title (the book does not specifically go into any particular false confessions), Williams explained that he and Straw, in discussing problems with the polygraph in the criminal arena, both agreed that “it is the primary thing most responsible for all false confessions.”

In the introduction to From Cop to Crusader, Williams stated “This book is a recounting of actual events that have occurred during my crusade against the multi-billion dollar scam called ‘lie detection’ perpetrated by the polygraph industry. It is written to the best of my memory. But as someone once said, ‘Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to the truth, but not its twin.’ So, the characters, conversations, and entities depicted may be composites or fictitious.” This no doubt applies to False Confessions, as well, which reads very much like an oral history, with reconstructed conversations.

Straw’s retelling of Doug Williams’ story is without question better organized and told than the original. Divided into 34 chapters, it chronicles Williams’ time working as a U.S. Air Force enlisted man in the White House Communications Agency during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, his joining the Oklahoma City Police Department, and how he made the decision to apply for a polygraph position, which culminated in his attending the late Dick Arther’s National Training Center of Lie Detection in New York City.

Williams relates (in Chapter 4) one of the memorable incidents that led him to question what he was doing as a polygraph operator:

…A particularly haunting memory of a woman seated in my office, sobbing while I railed on her for a confession, returned to my mind almost daily. I had been pushing her for a confession.

“The polygraph says you’re lying!” I shouted…

“I didn’t do it,” she’d cried…

I screamed back, “The machine is not wrong. You are lying. The machine is never wrong!”

After hours of mental pummeling, she’d balled up into a near-fetal position, almost convulsing in anguish. Suddenly, this woman turned her face to look squarely at me and cried out, “I did not do it! What are you trying to do? My God, what is wrong with you?”

There it was. Very plain, and corrosive as acid. What WAS wrong with me? And, that question led to more questions, bigger questions. What was wrong with all of this lie-detection trickery and the massive cult of operators who held so much power? Where had it started? How had it grown? How had it lasted all this time? I knew I needed answers to these questions.

Williams goes on to describe his 1979 departure from the Oklahoma City Police Department, his objections to polygraphy, and his decision to go public with his concerns. In Chapter 7, Williams recalls a press event he held at an Oklahoma City hotel not long after his resignation. Among other notable things, Williams recalls:

I felt that it was important to give the crowd some foundation to my claims, so I explained my background and told them how I had come to learn about this abusive behavior. I explained that, aside from my job with the police department, I had also worked part-time for a private polygraph company, so I had firsthand knowledge of the abuses within the industry. I explained that the company I had worked for had actually encouraged us to fail as many people as possible in order to charge the employer more money for administering more polygraph exams. It was common practice among private polygraph examiners.

Williams also notes that not all companies that required polygraph screening at that time did so voluntarily:

…polygraph operators were a necessary evil for the owners and managers of businesses that required their employees to submit to this grueling ordeal. Many of the business owners resented having to give the test; however, they were required to do so by the insurance companies that covered their businesses against losses from theft by employees….

Williams goes on to recount the beginning of his crusade against polygraphy, starting with an appearance on a popular talk show on Oklahoma’s largest radio station, KTOK. He details his development of a “three-prong strategy” embracing education, legislation, and litigation. As part of the education prong, Williams wrote the original edition of his manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph,” which explains how to pass or beat a polygraph “test”:

To launch the Education Phase of my attack, I needed a textbook. So, I compiled information into a manual I called, How to Sting the Polygraph. It was a detailed, start-to-finish handbook on how to defend yourself from the polygraph and its operator. The techniques were simple, and a person could perform them with relative ease. But, I had one more thing to do in order to craft the manual into the ultimate textbook I wanted it to be. In order to round out my research so that the manual was completely authenticated, I decided to utilize all the techniques “undercover,” as you might say. I would take polygraph exams from different polygraphists, pass them, document them, and notify the operators that had given me the test of the said results.

In order to do this, I would have to relocate. Oklahoma City wouldn’t work. All the polygraph operators knew me, and they weren’t going to let me anywhere near their little rooms of deceit. So, after I left the P.D., I moved to Houston, Texas to launch my campaign….

Notably, the complete text of the latest edition of Williams’ “How to Sting the Polygraph” is included as an appendix to False Confessions.

While working in Houston as an apprentice machinist, Williams embarked on a letter-writing campaign, also giving radio interviews. He later returned to Oklahoma City where for a time he worked as a paralegal and attended (though did not ultimately complete) law school at Oklahoma City University.

As part of the litigation prong of his antipolygraph campaign, Williams convinced his employer, attorney and former Oklahoma City Police Officer Chris Eulberg, to represent a polygraph victim bringing a wrongful discharge suit against oil field services company Halliburton Services. While the case was ultimately not successful, depositions were held, and the case helped to bring attention to workplace polygraph abuse. Although Williams does not mention the name of the plaintiff, upon inquiry, he confirmed that it was Michael Crowley, whose plight was the subject of an 11 July 1983 article in The Oklahoman titled, “Test wipes out job.”

Another highlight is Williams’ account of his participation in the CBS 60 Minutes investigative report, “Truth and Consequences,” which aired on Sunday, 11 May 1986 (Chapters 21 and 22). In that report, three different polygraph operators chosen from the New York telephone directory accused three different individuals of theft, even though no theft had occurred.

Regarding the “legislative prong” of his campaign against the polygraph, Williams recounts (in Chapters 16 and 17) the story his 1985 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, which helped lay the foundation for passage of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.

The last four chapters are of special interest. They concern a federal investigation called Operation Lie Busters that targeted Williams for entrapment. Williams recounts the raid on his home and office conducted on 21 February 2013, his indictment more than a year later, his difficult decision to plead guilty two days into trial, his incarceration from 30 October 2015 until 26 July 2017, and his plans for the future.

A minor criticism is that book could have benefited from additional copy editing (for example, in decades, such as “the 1980s” there should be no apostrophe, and “more wizened” does not mean “made more wise.”) In addition, it is erroneously implied in Chapter 5 that William Moulton Marston introduced his blood pressure-based lie detector test in 1930, nearly a decade after John A. Larson had assembled the first polygraph instrument in 1921. Marston in fact had documented his idea for a lie detector as early as 1915, and Larson was inspired by Marston’s work. But again, these are minor points.

False Confessions is a must-read for students of the history of polygraphy. Doug Williams is indisputably among the most influential persons in polygraphy’s nearly century-long history. His revelation of the polygraph trade’s secrets has earned the wrath of polygraph operators across the United States, and his manual “How to Sting the Polygraph” has long been part of the curriculum for the federal polygraph school’s countermeasures course.

In addition, the targeting of Williams for entrapment by overzealous federal agents—who began their investigation in the absence of any evidence that he had committed any crime—has civil liberties implications that go well beyond the polygraph world.

On a final note, polygraph operators (and those contemplating attending polygraph school) are well-advised to reflect on Williams’ saga and to think long and hard about the ethical implications of practicing this fraudulent pseudoscience.

False Confessions is available directly from the publisher. At the time of writing, discounted copies are also available via Outskirts Press, as is an Amazon Kindle version (presently free with Kindle Unlimited).

Update 19 June 2020: readers may obtain copies of False Confessions signed by Jack Straw and Doug Williams at a $3 discount by using code E29J9EE when ordering directly from Unit 2 Creations.

DEA Contractor Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators Found Liable for Breach of Anti-Polygraph Law

metlang-logoMcClatchy reporter Marisa Taylor reports that a federal judge has found Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators liable for violation of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, which restricts the use of polygraphs and other purported “lie detectors” by non-governmental employers. Excerpt:

— At the behest of the Drug Enforcement Administration, a leading court translation service forced its employees to take lie-detector tests in violation of federal law, a federal judge has found.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller concluded that the New York-based company, Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators Inc., was liable for requiring nine translators in San Diego to take what they described as highly invasive polygraph tests to keep their jobs as contractors with the DEA.

The ruling paves the way for a trial in which a jury will determine how much the company will have to pay in damages. Miller also found the company’s vice president, Joseph Citrano, liable. Five other translators already have settled with the company.

The decision, which was issued Oct. 24, comes after the DEA agreed to pay the 14 plaintiffs a total of $500,000 to settle the lawsuit. The contract employees translated Spanish conversations collected during court-authorized wiretapping of the DEA’s criminal suspects. Metropolitan fired the employees after they failed or refused to take the polygraphs.

A 1988 law banned most private employers from polygraphing their workers because of scientific questions about the technique’s reliability and after accounts of employer abuses.

“This ruling shows companies are responsible for their own actions when they violate the law,” said San Diego lawyer Gene Iredale, who represented the plaintiffs. “It also shows courts are ready, willing and able to enforce this law.”

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 still allowed the federal government to polygraph its employees and applicants. It also lists certain intelligence and law enforcement agencies as permitted to test their contractors. However, it does not list the DEA.

Read the rest of the story here.

DEA to Pay $500,000 to Settle Polygraph Lawsuit

dea-sealMcClatchy investigative reporter Marisa Taylor reports that the Drug Enforcement Agency has agreed to pay 14 contract translators $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought under the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA).

While the EPPA includes exemptions that allow individuals under contract to the FBI, NSA, DIA, and CIA, among others, to be polygraphed, no such exemption exists for DEA contractors.

The translators also filed suit against their direct employer, Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators, Inc., and that legal action remains ongoing with respect to nine plaintiffs. An April 2012 statement of claim in that litigation may be downloaded here. One translator’s polygrapher asked her “if she had engaged in sexual activity with animals” and another’s polygraph examination “included a question regarding his sexual conduct and whether he cheated on his partner.”

DEA Contractor Sued for Violation of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act

San Diego City Beat staff writer David Maass reports on the case of 10 translators formerly employed by Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators, a company that provides services to the Drug Enforcement Agency among other federal agencies. The translators were terminated for either failing, having inconclusive results on, or refusing to submit to, polygraph interrogations conducted by DEA polygraph operators. In a federal lawsuit, attorneys for the translators allege (convincingly, in’s view), that Metropolitan violated the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, which severely restricts the use of polygraphs by private companies. The DEA itself and individual DEA employees may eventually be added to the list of defendants in this case.

No Lie MRI Claims EPPA Exemption!

No Lie MRI, which has begun marketing fMRI-based lie detection services, has suggested to prospective clients that its lie detection tests are not governed by the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) of 1988:


U.S. law prohibits truth verification/lie detection testing for employees that is based on measuring the autonomic nervous system (e.g. polygraph testing). No Lie MRI measures the central nervous system directly and such is not subject to restriction by these laws. No Lie MRI is unaware of any law that would prohibit its use for employment screening.

No Lie MRI might want to get a second legal opinion. The EPPA makes no distinction between devices that measure the autonomic versus the central nervous system, broadly defining “lie detector” thus:

The term ”lie detector” includes a polygraph, deceptograph, voice stress analyzer, psychological stress evaluator, or any other similar device (whether mechanical or electrical) that is used, or the results of which are used, for the purpose of rendering a diagnostic opinion regarding the honesty or dishonesty of an individual.

No Lie MRI’s fMRI-based lie detector seems clearly to fall within the scope of this definition. Is No Lie MRI’s scientific research any better than its legal research?

$4 Million Awarded to Employees Fired for Refusing Polygraph

Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer John Shiffman reports in an article titled, “A.C. firm must pay fired trio $4 million”:

No one ever solved the mystery of who stole $4,000 from a desk at the telemarketing offices of a Jersey Shore time-share, or even whether any crime was really committed at all.

But this much is known: Three company employees – a polished salesman, a single mother, and a recovering drug addict – were fired over the alleged theft. Four years later, the same three suspects stand to share a $4 million judgment against the company.

“On paper, I’m now a millionaire,” said the salesman, Paulino Bonds of Mays Landing, who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. “But I know it’s not over.”

A federal jury delivered the multimillion-dollar award last month, concluding that the employer, Flagship Resort Development Corp., of Atlantic City, fired the workers because they refused to take lie-detector tests.

A 1988 law prohibits companies from asking employees to take a polygraph. But such cases rarely make it to trial, say lawyers who have researched the issue, in part because the law is so seldom violated.

“This may be one of the first of its kind to go to verdict,” said Karen Williams, the attorney for Flagship, which has filed motions seeking to have the verdict and $4 million award thrown out. “But the punishment has to fit the crime.”

Bonds’ attorney, Randolph C. Lafferty, agreed that the case was unusual, but said the award was just, given the “flagrant violation of the law.”

“I think that’s why the jury thought it was important to send a strong message,” Lafferty said.

Two jurors who heard the case said it was obvious Flagship fired Bonds, Gloria Gadson and Danielle Lyles for refusing to take a polygraph.

“What happened to those people wasn’t right,” said juror Vivian Komar, a nurse from Cape May. “They were violated. They were decent people.”

Did the three workers steal the money? Komar said she doubts it. “They had too much to lose,” she said.

Another juror, Megan Giordano, a graduate student who lives in Gibbstown, said she was still not sure.

“I still haven’t figured that out,” Giordano said, though she added it was “clear cut” the employer broke the law by requesting the polygraphs.

Mark Pfeffer, who represented Lyles, said there was no evidence anyone stole any money. “If I had thought she had stolen the money, I never would have represented her,” he said. “When you get terminated from your job for stealing money when you didn’t, it makes it real hard to get another job.”

The theft is alleged to have occurred 10 days before Christmas 1999 at the time-share’s call center in Brigantine, where Bonds, Lyles and Gadson worked.

Bonds, 39, was the successful salesman. He supervised telemarketers who pitched the time-shares for Flagship and earned $70,000 a year.

Lyles, 29, was the single mother with two small children, whose supervision of the company’s data-entry employees earned her about $30,000 a year.

Gadson, 45, was the recovering addict, who had recently moved to the Atlantic City area from North Jersey and had successfully completed a rehabilitation program. She was eager to restart her life and was earning $35,000 a year supervising telemarketers, Lafferty said.

The three did not work directly together, but bonded while smoking Newports outside during work breaks.

On the day of the alleged theft, a coworker, Charlotte Blake, who sat next to Lyles, left to pick up a check for about $4,100 from her lawyer. It was money owed from an unrelated auto accident.

Blake testified that she cashed the check at a check-cashing agency and visited her boyfriend before returning to her office. She said she carried the cash into the office in an envelope.

She said she told Lyles about the money, put it inside her desk drawer, then walked away to help plan an office Christmas party. When she came back, she lamented that the money was missing. The police were called. Desks, cars and trash cans were searched, but no money was found.

Almost immediately, Blake cast suspicion on Lyles. The police took statements at the Brigantine station from both women.

Flagship hired a private investigator. He took statements and wrote up a report, recommending that Blake, Gadson, Bonds and Lyles be asked to take lie-detector tests.

Flagship executives asked them to take the polygraphs. Blake agreed and passed, according to the investigator’s report. The three others refused and were fired.

Gadson and Lyles became upset. But Bonds said he was not worried. In telephone conference calls with his two colleagues, he told them to calm down. They had been wronged, he said. Their employer had violated a federal law. He had learned about this obscure law a few years back, he explained, during supervisor training while working at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. They needed to find good lawyers and sue, he told them.

The case took four years to reach trial before U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas in Camden. The trial lasted 10 days.

During deliberations, jurors did not find Blake credible, jurors Komar and Giordano said.

“Come on, if that’s all the money you have in the world, are you going to broadcast it?” Komar said.

Komar said jurors were wary of Blake’s story because she had a previous criminal conviction related to dishonesty, one she did not list on her employment application. At the time, Blake still owed about $4,000 in restitution related to the criminal case, records show.

After a day of deliberation the jury awarded compensatory damages. Lyles got $88,285 in lost wages and $100,000 for emotional distress. Bonds won $263,040 in lost wages and $200,000 for emotional distress. Gadson received $145,320 for lost wages and $300,000 for emotional distress.

The next day, the jury awarded punitive damages – about $1 million each.

Bonds, who owns a small home in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, said that if the award were upheld, he and his wife planned to buy a home in the Mays Landing area.

Lyles also plans to buy her first home. She didn’t expect to win, she said, because she doesn’t share Bonds’ faith in the justice system. “The kind of justice I usually see is African Americans getting the short end,” she said.

Gadson was not in court for either jury award. She was in state prison, serving a four-year term for marijuana possession with intent to distribute. She has breast cancer, she testified at trial, and was using the marijuana to lessen the ill effects from chemotherapy. Lafferty said Gadson chose prison over other sentencing alternatives “because, sadly, the health-care benefits are better.”

Gadson, too, plans to use the money to buy a house.

“She’s just glad justice has been done,” Bonds said.

Public employees should have the same protections against the voodoo science of polygraphy that these employees enjoyed under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988. In many government agencies, employees may be fired with impunity for refusing to submit to a lie detector “test.” A Comprehensive Employee Polygraph Protection Act is needed.

“Bull Moose Music Settles Lawsuit”

Doug Harlow reports for the Kennebec, Maine Sentinel on a lawsuit brought under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act. Excerpt:

WATERVILLE — Bull Moose Music and a former employee have come to terms on a combined lawsuit filed after the store allegedly was robbed by a masked man in August 2001.

Vickie Shuman, 20, now of Oakland, then of Fairfield, was working alone at the store on Elm Plaza two years ago when she told police she had been robbed of approximately $5,000 as the store was closing for the night.

Store officials suggested that Shuman had manufactured the story about the robbery and in fact had taken the money herself.

When Shuman refused to take a lie-detector test, she was fired. She then filed a lawsuit against the music store seeking reinstatement and payment of lost wages and benefits.

She also sought damages for emotional distress and unspecified punitive damages, according to the lawsuit filed in Kennebec County Superior Court in December 2001.

Through its lawyer, Kevin J. Beal of Lewiston, Bull Moose defended Shuman’s termination and countersued, charging her with fraud and theft of $5,000 cash. The company also sought punitive damages from Shuman.

“There was a settlement and the charge of theft against her was dismissed, pursuant to the agreement. She was fully satisfied with the settlement,” Shuman’s lawyer Jason M. Jabar of Waterville said Wednesday. “I would say the conclusion is that her name is cleared.

“She feels her name has been cleared. She got a label she didn’t think was fair.”

In his response to the claim, Beal took Bull Moose’s defense a step further, charging in the written document that it was Shuman herself who robbed the store and took the money.

Shuman “planned and conspired to steal some or all of the cash” from cash registers, deposit bags, the store safe or other locations, according to the counterclaim.

The company alleges that Shuman stole the money and gave it to a coconspirator who had agreed to assist her, then falsely reported the robbery to Waterville police.

Jabar said at the time that leveling such a charge without proof or evidence was a dangerous move on the part of Bull Moose and its lawyer.

Shuman had told police she heard a knock on the back door the night of the alleged robbery. When she opened it, she reportedly was confronted by a man standing about 6 feet tall, wearing a ski mask.

The alleged robber said to Shuman: ‘Give me the money or I’ll shoot you,’ although he never displayed a weapon, police said.

Deputy Police Chief Joseph Massey said at the time that police officers were near Elm Plaza when the robbery call came in and responded in less than a minute and found no one matching the description.

The police investigation turned up neither the money nor the culprit in the robbery. Shuman had worked at the store for 2 1/2 years.

On Sept. 27, 2001, according to the lawsuit, Bull Moose officials ordered Shuman to take a lie-detector test as a condition of her continued employment at the store.

The claim argued that Shuman’s firing and the order to take a lie-detector test in the first place were violations of United States Code.

“Smithfield Packing Settles Lawsuit”

The Virginian-Pilot reports that a settlement has been reached in an $18 million Employee Polygraph Protection Act lawsuit. Excerpt:

NORFOLK — A lawsuit filed by a former Smithfield Packing Co. saleswoman against the meatpacker has been settled on the eve of trial this week.

The terms were not disclosed.

The former employee, Julie M. Bannister, claimed in the $18 million suit that the company tried to force her to take a lie-detector test after she filed a sexual-harassment complaint. She also claimed she was defamed by a supervisor.

Papers filed in U.S. District Court June 24 say that the case was settled, but no details were provided. The trial was set to open this week.

This case was the subject of a 10 October 2002 Virginian-Pilot article titled, “Ex-employee sues Smithfield over polygraph.”

“Liar’s Poker”

Brendan I. Koerner writes for The Village Voice. Excerpt:

Q: I’ve been asked by a potential employer to take a lie-detector test. There was a fair amount of pot smoking in my distant past, and I’m worried it’ll disqualify me from the job, which I desperately need. Aren’t there ways to beat the machine?

Before we start discussing techniques for fooling Mother Tech, let Mr. Roboto play lawyer for a sec. You don’t mention who this potential employer is, but unless it’s Uncle Sam, there’s no way in Hades you can be coerced into taking the test. A 1988 federal law, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, forbids private-sector firms from using lie detectors to screen applicants, though some unscrupulous bosses will try and bully you. (Word to the wise: Don’t cave—worse comes to worst, you’ll have a sure-thing discrimination suit to file.)

No such legal protections exist when it comes to government jobs, however, despite mounting evidence that polygraphs are about as reliable as 17th-century dunking stools. Good thing the Web teems with tips on how to ace any lie-detector test, regardless of the numerous blunt-puffing skeletons in your closet.

As fans of cheesy detective fare already know, polygraphs work by measuring the physiological reactions of testees. The theory goes that a heightened pulse and sweaty palms invariably mean a person’s not on the up-and-up. Problem is, that assumption is rooted mainly in medical folklore. Not a single study exists to support a universal correlation between lying and excessive perspiration, or a speedier heart rate. Some people are just more anxious, and will exhibit the physiological signs of deception when telling the absolute truth—especially when they’re strapped into a machine and brusquely ordered, “Tell us how many times you smoked dope. Tell us!” (For federal jobs, 15 times or more over a lifetime is usually an automatic disqualifier.)

The other great polygraph flaw is its reliance on the “control question.” This is the question a polygrapher asks in order to establish what your lie looks like on the machine. A popular one is “Have you ever driven a car after drinking?”—the assumption being that no adult imbiber’s ever been a perfect angel. But if you’re really the conscientious type, and your answer of “no” is truthful, then you’re royally screwed for the remainder of the test.