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8. It is a commonly held truism among polygraph spokespersons, particularly those involved in pre- and post-employment screening, that the poygraph's so-called success comes not from detecting guilt or innocence from readings or any other signs. Rather, the inquisition-like process often prompts an admission of guilt from test subjects. The admissions themselves may or may not be for serious transgressions, or are often confessions for acts not normally thought to be crimes or sins. People can be made to confess anything. In any case, the procedure, not the machine or the test procedure itself have detected the supposed crime:
In these periodic tests [in a job situation] as in pre-employment screening, adverse reports are most often based on the respondent's own admissions. If someone is fired as a result of a polygraph session, it is usually because he [or she] has admitted some dischargeable offence and not just because of the pattern of chart reactions (Lykken, pp 187).
So here again, one sees the polygraph testing as window dressing for coercion, but not as a diviner of truth about guilt or innocence. Coercion may lead to confession, but there is no reason to expect that a confession extracted under the duress of a polygraph is truthful, nor is there any scientific bases for polygraph testing to be found inn such confessions:
If all polygraphs were stage props it is likely that just as many admissions or confessions would be elicited. Certainly much of the popularity and ability of the polygraph derives from this incidental effect (Lykken, pp 215).
Lykken suggests that the polygraph industry's maintenance of such crude equipment and subjective, inconsistent and arbitrary methods are results of the realization that the test is a charade:
This may be why so many polygraph operators show little interest in research on the actual validity of the various forms of polygraph test: even if tis validity is no better than chance, so long as most people believe int he lie detector or voice stress analyser, these tools will continue to elicit admissions and confessions, as that is their principle purpose (Lykken, pp 215).
Of course, any form of coercion will extract confessions, whether based on fact and true guilt or not.
...these methods commonly inflict great stress and emotional disturbance on the innocent and guilty alike-that is why it works. And because it works so well, one should distrust any confession obtained by modern interrogation methods, whether the polygraph was employed or not, unless the confession can somehow be confirmed (Lykken, pp 215).
Surely fundamental principles of social justice protect a citizen from arbitrary interrogation and its penalties, particularly when there is no evidence that the guilty will be winnowed out of such a procedure anyway. The situation here is rather reminiscent of the crusader who told his armies to kill all whom they came into contact with, and let God sort out the sinners.
In the case of the use of polygraphs for employment purposes, Lykken could find no evidence that polygraph tests reduced theft in the workplace; those who confessed may have been innocent, those who did not confess may well have stolen. Polygraphs didn't help-it just caused stress and elicited confessions.
Board of Directors Minutes, October 22, 1984
BCCLA member Brian Buchanan presented a brief that he had prepared on the use of lie detector tests. The brief argued that the use of polygraphs was scientifically indefensible and that, therefore, they ought not to be used in employment or criminal investigations. The brief was approved by the Board; however, there was some suggestion that further information had to be argued to bolster the conceptual argument for preventing the use of polygraphs in these cases on the basis of lack of scientific consensus regarding their validity.
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