Lie de­tec­tors won’t sort out fish tales

Baltimore Sun - - BUSINESS - Wayne Bid­dle, Bal­ti­more

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.

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