This is a very good piece that includes the well-deserved skepticism for the use of this device.
Police departments and federal agencies across the country are using a type of polygraph despite evidence of a technical problem that could label truthful people as liars or the guilty as innocent, McClatchy has found.
The technical glitch produced errors in the computerized measurements of sweat in one of the most popular polygraphs, the LX4000. Although polygraphers first noticed the problem a decade ago, many government agencies hadn’t known about the risk of inaccurate measurements until McClatchy recently raised questions about it.
The manufacturer, Lafayette Instrument Co. Inc., described the phenomenon as “occasional” and “minor,” but it couldn’t say exactly how often it occurs. Even after one federal agency became concerned and stopped using the measurement and a veteran polygrapher at another witnessed it repeatedly change test results, the extent and the source of the problem weren’t independently studied nor openly debated. In the meantime, tens of thousands of Americans were polygraphed on the LX4000.
The controversy casts new doubt on the reliability and usefulness of polygraphs, which are popularly known as lie detectors and whose tests are banned for use as evidence by most U.S. courts. Scientists have long questioned whether polygraphers can accurately identify liars by interpreting measurements of blood pressure, sweat activity and respiration. But polygraphers themselves say they rely on the measurements to be accurate for their daily, high-stakes decisions about people’s lives.
It’s amazing this is being used, still. As one quote from a professor who researched polygraph testing says, “We’re talking about using a procedure that has a very weak scientific foundation and making it worse,” said William Iacono. “I already don’t have very much confidence in how government agencies conduct these tests. Now, they might as well be flipping a coin.”
When the polygraph is considered in its entirety, it should be thrown in the trash can but the hold on some can’t be loosened. And perhaps they are used mostly as an intimidation device. How fair is that?