The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
The Polygraph and Lie Detection
enforcement and national security agencies whose concerns have been with practical detection of deception, not with advancing science. These concerns are perfectly valid, but they have impeded scientific progress. The fact that polygraph testing combines a diagnostic test and an interrogation practice in an almost inextricable way would be a major concern for any scientist seeking to validate the diagnostic test. The cultures of those parts of the agencies that deal with law enforcement and counterintelligence do not include traditions of scientific peer review, open exchange of information, and open critical debate that are common in scientific work. (The U.S. Department of Defense Polygraph Institute has, in the past few years, shown signs of becoming an exception to this generalization.) The culture of practice in security agencies, combined with the strong belief of practitioners in the utility of the polygraph, have made it easy for those agencies to continue their old practices. Thus, research has until quite recently focused almost exclusively on the polygraph and has been conducted within agencies that are committed to using the polygraph, believe strongly in its utility, and have seen little need to seek alternative techniques.
Our conversations with practitioners at several national security agencies indicate that there is now an openness to finding techniques for the psychophysiological detection of deception that might supplement or replace the polygraph. However, both these conversations and the recent research that these agencies have sponsored on alternatives to the polygraph show a continuing atheoretical approach that does not build on or connect with the relevant scientific research in other fields.
Criticisms of the scientific basis of polygraph testing have been raised since the earliest days of the polygraph. An indication of the state of the field is the fact that the validity questions that scientists raise today include many of the same ones that were first articulated in criticisms of Marston’s original work in 1917:19
My greatest reason for persistent skepticism as to the real use of the test, however, arises from the history of the subject. . . . The net result has been, I think to show that organic changes are an index of activity, of “something doing,” but not of any particular kind of activity . . . but the same results would be caused by so many different circumstances, anything demanding equal activity (intelligence or emotional) that it would be impossible to divide any individual case.
Another assessment remains as true today as when it was written a half century ago (Guertin and Wilhelm, 1954:153): “There has been rela-