Junk-Science in the Medical Profession: The Resurgence of Polygraph “Lie-Detection” in an age of Evidence-Based Medicine

Disrupted Physician

33755_1527129670651_5081648_n Circa 1995

The article below was published in the now defunct magazine Gray Areas almost twenty years ago. (Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1995 pp. 75-77).   Antipolygraph.og founder George Maschke noted in 2008 that article “makes a good introduction to the pseudoscience of polygraphy” and “the criticisms of polygraphy remain valid today.”  They remain valid in 2014.

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The Art of Deception: Polygraph Lie Detection

By Michael Lawrence Langan, M.D.

I’d swear to it on my very soul, If I lie, may I fall down cold.”

– Rubin and Cherise
(Hunter/Garcia)

The accuracy of polygraphic lie detection is slightly above chance. Nevertheless, State and local police departments and law enforcement agencies across the United States are devoted proponents of this unscientific and specious device. In addition, the American public seems to lend an implicit credence to the “lie detector” as evinced by its ubiquitous use on television crime shows and…

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5 thoughts on “Junk-Science in the Medical Profession: The Resurgence of Polygraph “Lie-Detection” in an age of Evidence-Based Medicine

  1. I am the only licensed polygraph expert who has ever told the truth about the polygraph, and the truth is, the polygraph is not a “lie detector”. I have been telling the truth about the scam called lie detection for almost forty years now in hopes of destroying the dangerous myth of “lie detection”. Carl Sagan said, “If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.” I was instrumental in destroying a large part of the polygraph industry by getting most polygraph testing outlawed in the private sector. In 1988, with the passage of the EMPLOYEE POLYGRAPH PROTECTION ACT, administering polygraph tests actually became a federal crime! Even the U.S. Supreme Court refused to admit polygraph results into evidence, and ironically it was the U.S. Justice Department who argued that the polygraph results were not reliable and should not be admitted into evidence! I was a member of the Office of Technology Assessment, (an investigative arm of the U.S. Congress), studying the validity and reliability of the polygraph – our report basically said it was worthless as a “lie detector”. I also testified in the U.S. Congress in support of the EPPA. Click here to read a transcript of my testimony: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015011381806;view=1up;seq=281 (My testimony begins on pg 275) Here is an interesting piece of historical trivia: When I testified in Congress, I put my manual, HOW TO STING THE POLYGRAPH into the Congressional Record, and the Senators and Representatives distributed more copies of my manual between 1984 and 1988 than anyone has ever distributed – including me! They sent them out by the tens of thousands in response to requests from constituents. But, there were exclusions written into the law that allowed the government – local state and federal – to continue to use the polygraph. They attempt to justify these exclusions on the grounds that the government needs this tool to protect national security and the law enforcement officials need it to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system. I have proved the polygraph is not a “lie detector” – the Congress, the Justice Department, the OTA, and all those with any scientific credibility agree with me – so there is no justification for the government to continue to use it on the pretext that it protects our national security or the integrity of the criminal justice system.

    It is FOOLISH and DANGEROUS to use the polygraph as “lie detector” – the theory of “lie detection” is nothing but junk science. It is based on a faulty scientific premise. The polygraph operators have the audacity to say that there is such a thing as a “reaction indicative of deception”, when I can prove that “lying reaction” is simply a nervous reaction commonly referred to as the fight or flight syndrome. In fact, the polygraph is nothing but a psychological billy club that is used to coerce a person into making admissions or confessions. It is FOOLISH and DANGEROUS for government agencies to rely on the polygraph to “test” applicants, or to conduct any type of investigations relating to national security. It is FOOLISH and DANGEROUS for the criminal justice system to rely on an instrument that has been thoroughly discredited to determine whether or not a person is truthful or deceptive, or to use it to guide their investigations in any way – especially when the results cannot even be used as evidence in a court of law! And it is FOOLISH and DANGEROUS for anyone to believe they will pass their polygraph “test” if they just tell the truth! When you factor in all the damage done to people who are falsely branded as liars by these con men and their unconscionable conduct, this fraud of “lie detection” perpetrated by the polygraph industry should be a federal crime! The protection provided to some people by the EPPA should be extended to protect everyone from this insidious Orwellian instrument of torture! Shame on anyone who administers these “tests” – and shame on the government for continuing to allow this state sponsored sadism!

    So, here we have this diabolical dichotomy – the government protects some people from polygraph abuse and perpetrates polygraph abuse on others! The Congress outlaws the use of the polygraph in the private sector, (and distributes my manuals, teaching people how to pass their tests), the Justice Department argues that it should not be used as evidence in court, the Supreme Courts agrees and refuses to allow polygraph results into evidence, and the OTA issues a report saying all the scientific evidence proves it is not reliable – yet, after all this, many government agencies greatly expand the use of the polygraph to numbers never seen before in the history of the country!

    So what explains this schizophrenia in the government? Why do they outlaw it in one area and expand it in another? I’m afraid I know – I think President Nixon told us why the government uses it when he said, “I don’t know anything about polygraphs, and I don’t know how accurate they are, but I know they’ll scare the hell out of people, and that’s why I like to use them!” But, liars can pass easily – history is full of people who have lied and passed polygraphs with no problem. Aldridge Ames, the notorious spy, passed many polygraph exams – and he was an active spy when he took, (and passed) several polygraph tests! Recently, the government said they need to use the polygraph in order “to stop the next Edward Snowden” and “prevent leaks by keeping employees honest”. This reasoning is absolutely absurd! Snowden has said he got that job at NSA solely for the purpose of getting access to that information – information he planned from the outset to disclose – and he passed two polygraph tests knowing what he planned to do. How is the use of the polygraph going to stop “the next Edward Snowden” when it didn’t stop the first one? As a matter of fact there has never been even one spy ever caught by the polygraph! I have often demonstrated how simple it is to “beat the box” on national television programs – I have done that for over 40 years. I do it in hopes that those who use this instrument will realize that it is not accurate or reliable as a “lie detector” and will quit using it!

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  2. Yes, those in positions of power love to use the polygraph to intimidate and control people. And they are very angry at me for “protesting the loudest and longest against the polygraph” – that is the statement that was made by a federal agent in charge of OPERATION LIE BUSTERS, an investigation that led to my being indicted by the feds – I will go on trial in April…

    Here is one of many articles about the indictment:
    http://mashable.com/2014/11/14/polygraph-dot-com-doug-williams/?utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Mashable+%28Mashable%29&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=feedburner

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  3. […] PHPs also use non-FDA approved junk-science drug and alcohol testing they introduced.  The procedural safeguards most EAPs use to  protect the donor ( certified labs, FDA-approved validated tests, split-specimen, strict chain-of-custody, MRO review) have been reviewed.  Unvalidated “personality” assessments they also introduces are being used in “disruptive” physician evaluations guaranteed to find “character defects” to justify monitoring contracts. They implement polygraphs despite the AMAs previous conclusion they are scientifically unsupportable… […]

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  4. […] PHPs also use non-FDA approved junk-science drug and alcohol testing they introduced.  The procedural safeguards most EAPs use to  protect the donor ( certified labs, FDA-approved validated tests, split-specimen, strict chain-of-custody, MRO review) have been reviewed.  Unvalidated “personality” assessments they also introduces are being used in “disruptive” physician evaluations guaranteed to find “character defects” to justify monitoring contracts. They implement polygraphs despite the AMAs previous conclusion they are scientifically unsupportable… […]

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