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Letters to the Editor

Polygraphs as Junk Science

Dr. Morton Tavel has done the scientific community a great service with his highly readable review of polygraph junk science (January/February 2016). I’d like to add three observations.

First, neither law enforcement nor national security agencies have shared even their very old data that might provide some insight into the actual utility of the polygraph. After millions of tests in both criminal and employment-screening settings, there surely is enough information to inform on the polygraph’s sensitivity and specificity. Taxpayers have shelled out billions of dollars to pay for polygraph tests, and researchers ought to have access to that data. Perhaps it is easy to surmise why these agencies haven’t released any of it.

Second, fine civil servants lose their security clearances and thus their careers every year to the vagaries of “the box.” I get several calls a year from high-ranking federal government employees who have failed their polygraphs and are looking to redress the horrific personal impacts (let alone the waste in discarding of experienced individuals). I know of no case where a security clearance was restored once lost to the stochastic judgment of polygraphers.

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About Skeptical Inquirer

Creators of the Paranormal: A handful of twentieth-century figures “created” the modern concept of the paranormal and its leading topics, transporting fantasy, myth, or speculation into a kind of believable “reality.” Most proved to be a chimera. CRISPR-Cas9: Not Just Another Scientific Revolution Dissociation and Paranormal Beliefs Scientific Reasoning at the USAF Academy: An Examination into Titanium-Treated Necklaces Stick It In Your Ear! How Not To Do Science A Testament of Belief Masquerading as Science and much more...