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The Morand Commission findings have been summarized by a number of authors and associations, some of which are listed in this paper's bibliography. A good deal of the Morand work has become a seminal part of an increasingly large body of research and findings that suggest the polygraph test is deficient and misleading.
The Commission report itself, as well as other supporting compendium material for Ontario's revision of its Employment Standards Act, clearly shows that Ontario had a strong case in 1983 for restricting use of this crude apparatus. Ontario chose to strongly curb the imposition of pseudo-scientism as a coercive technique in the workplace. We would go further: the device is harmful both in the workplace and in criminal investigation; the direction of the following thesis will support this contention.
This position paper will to some extent revive some of the evidence and arguments of various published sources on the subject, but it will look at this issue from some new perspectives as well, particularly in light of both the persistence of the use of such equipment and the absence of legislative action in B.C., where the procedure is used on an increasing scale inside and outside the criminal justice system.
While the Association's principal concern lies with polygraph use in employment or commercial situations and in criminal investigations, the objectionable indefensible nature of the test and its assumptions apply in most instances equally well to any application of the polygraph. It may serve the discussion at hand to develop an explanation of the machine and the rationale of its use, as in the next section.
The machine and procedures
The standard polygraph device has four "channels" whose functions are to provide graphic output on physical responses to interrogation. Two of the channels indicate breathing movements from tubes strapped on the chest and abdomen; a third channel, the cardio one, is connected to a blood pressure cuff on the upper arm, monitoring heart rate and pulse pressure in a fairly crude way in comparison with modern medical procedures and equipment. The fourth channel requires connection of a pair of metal electrodes to, say, two fingers of one hand; some indication of the changing electrical resistance of the skin is demonstrated by this channel, in a phenomenon often called galvanic skin response (GSR). A moving paper chart and a series of pens, like a seismic device, indicate the progress of the various channels' responses over time, and, at least in theory, also indicate in some way the test subjects' physiological responses to questions put to them.
These physiological responses are supposedly given meaning by a two or three stage process of interrogation, whereby the examiner first establishes a recognizable pattern of responses, unique to the subject, in the face of "truth" and "falsehood". Using control questions, the examiner adduces how the subject will react to his or her utterance of truth or falsehood in question areas not apparently pertinent to the issues at hand. Often this procedure involves the use of marked cards to deceive the subject into believing that the polygraph can always tell when is is lying about a playing card he chose. Apparently, the machine cannot, since the cards are marked! This particular development of credibility for the machine in the eyes of the subject is absolutely critical: if the subject does not believe that the polygraph can detect his or her duplicity, the subject will, at least in the theory of the test, not react physically to her own lying or truthful statements. An equally important part of that first phase consists of the pre-test interview, in which the examiner typically takes extensive note of the subject's physical quirks, and, using guidelines about how supposedly to detect lies, draws preliminary conclusions as to the general guilt, innocence or trustworthiness of the test subject. Of course, these preliminary pre-test conclusions, along with the control questions, provide critical and self-fulfilling influence for the analysis of the graph results of the second phase, as this paper will describe later. As early as the first entry into the office area of a testing centre, a subject may undergo analysis by the interviewer or receptionists, thereby setting up a subjective arbitrary data gathering and inference chain that is strung together to support itself as the test phases proceed. Among the guidelines that this pre-test and first phase questioning procedure might use, one typically finds the theoretical idea that a truthful person will be more concerned with control questions than the case-pertinent or critical questions, since he or she has been convinced by the examiner that an innocent person can only fail the test if he or she does not answer the control questions adequately.
In contrast, the guilty person will supposedly look to the critical questions as a source of anxiety, recordable as it supposedly is, on the attached needles. The pre-test phase will also typically look to find guilt in those who, say, rub their hands together, or criticize the test, squirm in their chairs, avoid eye contact, or perform other "typical" acts displaying guilt. Polygraph testers apparently are unable to substantiate why these subjective cues are more effective indications of duplicity, if in fact they are effective by themselves or as part of the interrogation process.
In the second phase, the subject is asked a series of questions that apparently relate to the case of situation at hand, but it a trial, or employment screening situation, or personnel investigation. These questions are usually asked several times, sometimes in various orders, and the results are graphed by the four channels. The question pattern is meant to establish the autonomic and other physical responses to questions designed to reveal lying.
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