Lie detectors won’t sort out fish tales
If the organizers of the White Marlin Open and other such tournaments are relying on polygraph tests to quash fish stories, they are letting themselves in for endless whoppers (“Judge asked to decide outcome of White Marlin Open after organizers say $2.8 million winner failed lie-detector test,” Nov. 3). There has been broad scientific consensus for years, including by the National Academies of Science and the American Psychological Association, that so-called lie detectors lack validity. (My article in the March 1986 issue of Discover Magazine is still a useful survey of the subject for laymen.) The devices, which merely record such physiological indicators as blood pressure, pulse, breathing rate and perspiration — numbers that may or may not have anything to do with telling fibs — might be good at intimidating rubes, but they can be worse than flipping a coin at determining truth or falsehood. They started out as carnival stunts a century ago. That’s where they still belong. The writer is a visiting associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.