Normal Topic A Response to Elmer Criswell of (Read 7339 times)
Paste Member Name in Quick Reply Box Gino J. Scalabrini (Guest)

A Response to Elmer Criswell of
Jan 5th, 2001 at 8:46pm
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In recent weeks, there have been a number of posts on the message board by polygraphers who have made disparaging remarks about an "anti-polygraph site" which I can only assume is


I feel the need to set the record straight:

Please keep in mind that the message board on is a censored forum. Last year, when the polygraphers who run the site were badly losing a debate on polygraph validity on their own message board, they resorted to deleting posts. They then explained that all posts on the site must be grounded in the idea that "the polygraph has its rightful place in the community." is privately owned, and I respect the owner's wishes. Therefore, I have chosen to respond here on the message board. Our board is open to those of all viewpoints--even those who support the polygraph. I have sent Mr. Elmer Criswell of an e-mail of this post, and invited him and his fellow polygraphers to make use of this message board to share their views.

In his post on Polygraph Place dated Dec. 21, 2000, Mr. Criswell ("lietestec") states, "even the most inexperienced polygraph examiner can easily see that the examinee is attempting countermeasures." I beg to differ with this statement. Despite the claims of those who profit financially from lie-detection, the fact is that polygraphers cannot detect sophisticated countermeasures (like those described in [i][url=]The Lie Behind the Lie Detector[/url][/i]) with better than chance accuracy. I'd like to cite the abstract of an article entitled, "Mental and Physical Countermeasures Reduce the Accuracy of Polygraph Tests" by Charles R. Honts, David C. Raskin, and John C. Kircher ([i]Journal of Applied Psychology,[/i] 1994, Vol. 79, No. 2, 252-259):

[quote]Effects of countermeasures on the control-question polygraph test were examined in an experiment with 120 Ss [subjects] recruited from the general community. Ss were given polygraph tests by an examiner who used field techniques. Twenty Ss were innocent, and of the 100 guilty Ss, 80 were trained in the use of either a physical countermeasure (biting the tongue or pressing the toes to the floor) or a mental countermeasure (counting backward by 7) to be applied while control questions were being presented during their examinations. The mental and physical countermeasures were equally effective. Each enabled approximately 50% of the Ss to defeat the polygraph test. The strongest countermeasure effects were observed in the cardiovascular measures. Moreover, the countermeasures were difficult to detect either instrumentally or through observation. The original examiner's subjective decisions of countermeasures use were correct for only 12% of the physical countermeasures subjects. None of the mental countermeasures subjects produced behavior or physiological responses that the examiner considered to be indicative of countermeasure use. None of the spontaneous countermeasure users in the guilty control condition were detected, but the original examiner did falsely accuse 15% of the innocent control subjects of using countermeasures when they had not.[/quote]

I would also direct Mr. Criswell toward the 1994 survey of opinion of the members of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) conducted by Drs. William G. Iacono and David T. Lykken. Members of this scholarly organization constitute the relevant scientific community for the evaluation of the validity of polygraphic lie detection. Members of the SPR were asked, "Would you say that the CQT (the most common polygraph format) is based on scientifically sound principles or theory?" Of the 84% of the 183 respondents with an opinion, only 36% agreed. Members of the SPR were also asked whether they agreed with the following statement, "The CQT can be beaten by augmenting one's response to the control questions." Of the 96% of the survey's respondents with an opinion, 99% agreed that polygraph "tests" can be beaten (full cite can be found on page 105 of [i]The Lie Behind the Lie Detector[/i]).

If it is so "easy" for even the most inexperienced polygrapher to recognize countermeasure attempts, I am left to wonder why polygraphers are conducting continuing education courses in countermeasures detection. Surely, if it were "easy" for even the most "inexperienced" polygraph examiner to recognize attempts at countermeasures, one would logically assume that there would be no need to offer continuing education courses on detecting countermeasures to experienced polygraphers. Yet, these courses are on the rise. Since research has shown that polygraphers are not able to detect sophisticated countermeasures with better than chance accuracy, I can only assume that the focus of these seminars is on bluffing and intimidating examinees to admit use of countermeasures.

Mr. Criswell then states that during 85-90% of the specific issue tests that he conducts for attorneys, the examinee "fails" the "test." Furthermore, he continues, 50% attempt countermeasures, and a majority of these subjects "admit it" when he tells them that they have failed and that he has seen the presence of countermeasures. He then goes on to speculate that a majority of these individuals are getting their information from some "anti-polygraph" site, which I can only assume is a reference to's free book, [i]The Lie Behind the Lie Detector[/i], makes it clear that polygraphers often bluff suspects by telling them that they see deception, countermeasures, etc. in the charts. This is quite common, and will become "par for the course" as knowledge of effective countermeasures increases. This is why we clearly advise [b]never[/b] to admit to the polygrapher that you have used/know about countermeasures. I find it hard to believe that a "majority" of our readers did not follow this simple instruction. If Mr. Criswell was referring to [i]The Lie Behind the Lie Detector,[/i] I can only assume that he is attempting to scare people out of using countermeasures.

Mr. Criswell goes on to say that:

[quote]Please keep in mind that most of the "experts" on the anti-polygraph sites have never been trained as polygraphists and do not completely understand what it is we do or how we do it, but they sound like they know what they are talking about. Most of the actual experts (whatever that is) in the polygraph field just look upon them as pitiful buffoons who really need to "get a life" - as they say.[/quote]

Mr. Criswell, like many in the polygraph community, has chosen to attack our credentials rather than focusing his commentary on our work itself. This is a common logical fallacy--assuming that an argument can be defeated by attacking its source instead of the argument itself. [i]The Lie Behind the Lie Detector[/i] stands on its own--if Mr. Criswell or anyone else at Polygraph Place believes that anything we said is untrue, we encourage them to bring it to our attention.

Mr. Criswell would have us believe that only polygraphers have the right to comment on polygraph accuracy and validity. I personally do not feel that I need to rush out and become an astrologer in order for me to comment that astrology is a pseudoscience. George Maschke and I are merely two individuals who did substantial research using literature published on the polygraph and wrote on what we found. [i]The Lie Behind the Lie Detector[/i] contains extensive citations and references--the bibliography is over 10 pages long. Furthermore, three noted professors of psychology reviewed the final draft and provided feedback. If anyone's opinion should be suspect, it is those who [b]are[/b] trained polygraphers. They have a vested financial interest in the subject.

Speaking of polygraphers, qualifications, and vested financial interests, in the 12/16/00 installment of "The Polygraph Chronicles" (Mr. Criswell's bi-weekly e-mail newsletter), Mr. Criswell calls for the "elimination of the use of all voice stress testing in all jurisdictions until published, independent research has established a consistent accuracy level of at least 90% with an established research plan to develop it to an accuracy level equal to polygraphy before it may be used in detection of deception situations." Later in the newsletter, he goes on to describe a situation where a number of applicants were rejected for jobs because of CVSA. This attack on CVSA by Mr. Criswell raises a number of problems.

"Control" Question "Test" polygraphy does not meet the scientific standards that Mr. Criswell demands for CVSA. As we explained in Chapter One of [i]The Lie Behind the Lie Detector[/i], polygraphy is an unspecifiable procedure, lacking scientific "control" and standardization. As such, its validity cannot be determined by scientific means.

Note that the American Polygraph Association and Department of Defense Polygraph Institute are [b]not[/b] disinterested parties. Therefore, their studies and statistics should be just as suspect as the accuracy studies from the CVSA manufacturer.

Major scientific groups like the American Medical Association have called for a halt to polygraphs until they are proven accurate by credible scientific evidence. Yet, when a financially disinterested group like points this out, Mr. Criswell says that we "do not understand."

Also, nowhere in the newsletter does Mr. Criswell state that he is a trained CVSA examiner. Since he implies that one must be a trained polygraph examiner in order to comment on the polygraph, one would assume that CVSA training is necessary in order to disparage CVSA.  Furthermore, unlike our non-profit organization, the polygraphers' ulterior motive in disparaging CVSA is quite clear: It is a competing pseudoscientific "lie-detection" process that financially threatens polygraphers. Nationwide, CVSA is replacing polygraphs at an alarming rate. The former has the advantage of being less costly (both for the equipment and for examiner training), faster, and less invasive. Still, both are nothing more than pseudoscientific interrogation props.

Once again, I encourage the folks at Polygraph Place to participate in our message board, to point out anything in our book that they feel is untrue, and to support their positions with facts. Also, if they are feeling ambitious, they might want to answer the question that Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and APA President Skip Webb chose to dodge: Can valid results reasonably be foreseen when "testing" examinees that know about the psychological manipulations and deceptions that the test relies on?

[i]Last modification: Gino J. Scalabrini - 01/05/01 at 12:46:00[/i]
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Re: A Response to Elmer Criswell of PolygraphPlace
Reply #1 - Jan 4th, 2001 at 6:32pm
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Mr. Scalabrini,

    You are to be commended for both for your cogent analysis and successfully met goal of avoiding purely ad hominem attacks on your critics.  I believe, however, your effort to accomplish the latter left you not properly criticizing an aspect of the message board posts, when, in fact, such a criticism was highly justified.  It would appear that Mr. Criswell's comments regarding your site stem largely from a message board discussion improperly and ridiculously  titled "Vegas Roll."  Mr. Criswell quite properly corrected the nomenclature to Vagus (or Vagal) Roll, a term referring to neuronal input (10th cranial nerve) and the resulting physiological output at a subset of its innervated end-organs, i.e., the heart.  Mr. Criswell's description of vagus roll (“It is an interaction between the cardiac nerve (sympathetic) and vagus nerve (parasympathetic)…”) however, is not correct.  There is no interaction/communication between the cardiac nerves and the vagus nerve.  He correctly characterizes their anatomical and physiological etiology as sympathetic and parasympathetic, respectively.  These nerves have common end-organ effector sites, and such, lead to physiological output which is a balance of the respective inputs, not a function of interaction or communication between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system.  Perhaps Mr. Criswell realizes this and his commentary is simply not technically precise...I do not know.  What is apparent and appalling though, is that the nonsensical nomenclature (“Vegas Roll”), was referred to and ignorantly used by members of the polygraph community for two days (before being corrected by Mr. Criswell)  and even used by one member in supplying his reply to the initial posting.  I would suggest to that community, as a practical matter, that if they intend to delete any postings from their site, that they should consider beginning with this embarrassment.  That exchange clearly reveals a lack of familiarity (on the part of regular contributors to that site) with even basic terminology let alone the structure and function of the physiological systems underlying their practice.
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