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Should You Take A Lie Detector Test?

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Do you think the lie detector test works? Think you should take it if you
are innocent? You might be surprized by what you don't know.

lie detector test, lie detector, secret information

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Is the standard lie detector test (also known as the polygraph) reliable?
Should you be concerned about taking a polygraph test? Let's start with a
true story.

The FBI gives agent applicants a lie detector test before hiring them.
After 9/11, their polygraph failure rate went to 50%. Did liars suddenly
start applying for jobs? No, but the testers were instructed to read the
tests differently, even though this meant throwing out some honest people
with the few dishonest ones. Imagine what this would do to your future.
For all of their lives these mostly innocent people will have a record of
a failed FBI polygraph following them.

Most scientists now agree that polygraph "testing" is junk science. In
fact, John Larson, one of the pioneers of polygraphic lie detection, says
"I'm sorry I ever had any part in it's development." The test is valued
by governments and others because it is useful for getting damaging
admissions from people, especially those who don't know that the test is
a sham.

Unfortunately, the lie detector test is actually biased against the
truthful. This is because the more honestly one answers the "control"
questions, the more likely one is to fail. Meanwhile, hardened criminals
have proven again and again that they can lie throughout the test without

<b>How Lie Detector Tests Work (Or Don't)</b>

The basic idea is this: The polygrapher asks "control" questions in order
to get your "baseline responses." These are questions to which the
operator knows or assumes the truthful answer. The device measures blood
pressure, heart, breathing and perspiration rates. Then, when you are
asked other questions (Are you involved in espionage? Did you take Johns
watch?) your responses are compared to your baseline responses, to
determine if your answer is honest or a lie.

An operator will tell you that you should answer all questions honestly,
but they don't actually want this to happen. In fact, they will often ask
control questions that they assume you will answer with a lie. This could
be something like "Have you ever lied when in trouble?" They may mention
that someone who would do such a thing is not a good person, thus
encouraging you to lie, so they can see your response.

Operators use this kind of trickery as a standard part of the testing
procedure. They also have to use their own judgment. If they think you
are dishonest, they may interpret the results differently. Even if they
don't do this, they may push harder to find questions that give the
result they want. Whether this is conscious or not, it shows how
unscientific the whole procedure can be.

Should you take the test? Consider what former CIA Director John M.
Deutch had to say about it: "[The CIA's] reliance on the polygraph is
truly insane." How about former CIA Director R. James Woolsey: "...the
use of this highly flawed instrument should be radically curtailed." You
may want to reconsider any plans to take that lie detector test.

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