Mythbusters polygraph doctor is a quack?
December 7, 2007 3:49 PM   Subscribe

Wednesday's Mythbusters episode had a known-quack "doctor" with a phony Ph. D? This guy says so about the beat-the-polygraph test's test-giver.
posted by floam (72 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would read that site, but I'm going to be taking a polygraph, and I think one of the questions is "Have you been researching polygraphs before this test?".
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:53 PM on December 7, 2007


Gee, George W. Maschke sounds a little axe-grindy. Did this guy run over his puppy in the parking lot or somethin?
posted by yhbc at 3:57 PM on December 7, 2007


Wow, that page had the weirdest problem in my version of Firefox: every couple of seconds the text would shift up three or four pixels, then shift back. It made reading it really difficult.

Anyhow, I wonder if the support team on the show that gets all the guests got gamed, or if this site is wrong about the guys credentials.

(My damned DVR completely failed me and I only saw a couple of minutes of Wednesday's ep. I'll have to watch tomorrow to see what the fuss is about)
posted by quin at 4:00 PM on December 7, 2007


That was an interesting post. I didn't know that polygraphs work in the way that he says. I'll be curious to see if asavage will poke his head in here and respond.
posted by painquale at 4:03 PM on December 7, 2007


Oh, give me a break, yhbc. I'm sure the proprietor of antipolygraph.org, who was apparently asked to appear on the program in question and then rejected by the producers, has no axe to grind on this subject.
posted by dersins at 4:03 PM on December 7, 2007


"known-quack"

Who besides this guy, who is more than a LITTLE axe-grindy, says the other guy is a quack?
posted by briank at 4:03 PM on December 7, 2007


That was a new episode?

I saw "Confederate Steam Gun" on my Tivo and deleted it, thinking it was one of the many episodes they'd already done on confederate myths. Dang.
posted by mrnutty at 4:05 PM on December 7, 2007


briank: Well, I phrased it as a question and made it clear that I'm talking about one guy.

I personally found it kind of odd that they didn't really try very many things to defeat the polygraph, and just sort of left it where they did when the answers came back. I hear about polygraphs being wrong all the time, and it seems the show didn't really look deep into the issue at all.

(Note: I have no axe to grind in either direction)
posted by floam at 4:09 PM on December 7, 2007


So this guy's argument hangs on the fact that the person in question was awarded an honorary doctorate?

'Cuz honorary doctorates are very much real. They're doctorates awarded by universities by waiving course work in favor of contributions to an area of study -- and most of those times those contributions are vastly more substantial than a thesis.

The use of the "Doctor" appellation is somewhat controversial, but people as respected as Dr. Benjamin Franklin have adopted it based on honorary degrees. It certainly doesn't make someone a quack.
posted by tkolar at 4:10 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


dersins: Oh, give me a break, yhbc. I'm sure the proprietor of antipolygraph.org, who was apparently asked to appear on the program in question and then rejected by the producers, has no axe to grind on this subject.

I'm sorry, dersins, but I'm pretty sure he does have an axe to grind.
posted by koeselitz at 4:12 PM on December 7, 2007


I think that's why dersins included the clause about the guy's having been rejected. Y'know, to facilitate irony.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:17 PM on December 7, 2007


He may have an axe to grind, but as the owner of the "Global Polygraph Network" "Dr." Martin isn't exactly a disinterested party, now, is he.

As for "Suffield University", it is without any doubt nothing but a diploma mill where you can easily get a degree by paying them money. One look at their so-called "degree requirements" should give you the answers you need on that score. For those still skeptical, you should check out their price list. It would be remarkably good value for money if any actual education were involved!
posted by clevershark at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ha! My wife half-watched this episode the other night as I was playing it back on our TV. She studies a lot of different subjects in cognitive psych and one area of recent research is lie detection. During the scenes with the polygraph guy as well as the MRI dude in the second half, she was sputtering and yelling about how everything they were saying was wrong-headed and not based in real research. I had to stop it at one point and say "hey, it's just a TV show, they have to dumb everything down and cut a few corners when discussing this stuff, relax."

Shows you how wrong I was. She's gonna be happy to hear this.
posted by mathowie at 4:20 PM on December 7, 2007


tkolar: So this guy's argument hangs on the fact that the person in question was awarded an honorary doctorate? 'Cuz honorary doctorates are very much real. They're doctorates awarded by universities by waiving course work in favor of contributions to an area of study -- and most of those times those contributions are vastly more substantial than a thesis. The use of the "Doctor" appellation is somewhat controversial, but people as respected as Dr. Benjamin Franklin have adopted it based on honorary degrees. It certainly doesn't make someone a quack.

Honorary doctorates actually mean absolutely nothing when they come from Suffield University, like that keening guy who wrote this thing claims in another article about the good doctor. The one seems to be an obsessed blogger, but if that resume's genuine, then the other is a phony doctor who has no place on a Mythbuster's episode.
posted by koeselitz at 4:21 PM on December 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


Adam is a MeFite so perhaps he will chime in. If they did screw up, I'm sure they'll admit it and probably revisit the experiment. I sincerely doubt they are in league with "Big Polygraph." For my two cents though, I believe polygraphs are a load of hooey, used to scare confessions out of people.
posted by chairface at 4:23 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, if anyone was wondering if it's a fake diploma mill, check out their FAQ:
8. How long will it take to get my degree?
In most cases the whole process can be completed within 5-7 days.
Yeah, not a diploma mill at all.
posted by mathowie at 4:26 PM on December 7, 2007 [6 favorites]


You're wrong Matt! They simply developed the direct brain interface technology first seen in The Matrix, and that's why you your degree so darn quick!
posted by clevershark at 4:42 PM on December 7, 2007


Ahem... that's why you get your degree so darn quick, that is.
posted by clevershark at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2007


Entertainment always wins over accuracy. I will be impressed if they issue a correction as the show is held to neither scientific nor journalistic standards.

In my opinion, this is par for the course for the Discovery Channel and their Area 51 Loch Ness Big Foot UFO Marathons. There's enough quackery on this network to blow up ten super computers.
posted by _aa_ at 4:45 PM on December 7, 2007 [4 favorites]




Hold on a second-- you actually think a show like Mythbusters should should be held to scientific or journalistic standards?

It's not science.

It's not journalism.

It's entertainment.

Do you also think that "reality" shows are "real"?
posted by dersins at 4:51 PM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


_aa_, this is Mythbusters we're talking about. They're just about as good as you can get in this area without actually being a news organization... and these days, even that's not often much better.
posted by JHarris at 4:51 PM on December 7, 2007


dersins: I typically feel that mythbusters does a good-enough job of letting me make up my mind about some particular urban legend. Of course it shouldn't be held to stringent standards, but more often than not they try to at least make some attempt to do near-science and I've never seen anything to suggest any of it is "fake".
posted by floam at 4:55 PM on December 7, 2007


I've never actually checked out a diploma mill site before. Ridiculous. I'm both bemused and irritated. How in the world did they get accredited? (Their wikipedia entry says they are unaccredited, but their FAQ says otherwise.)

I enjoyed this testimonial on many levels, though.

"The best part, is the two very-nice-looking degrees hanging-up in the middle of my wall, it's a nice touch!"
posted by painquale at 4:56 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hold on a second-- you actually think a show like Mythbusters should should be held to scientific or journalistic standards?

In a way they are, because they risk alienating their viewers who (I think it's fair to say) put at least a little trust in the show on the premise that it IS going to investigate what it claims to investigate.
posted by clevershark at 4:59 PM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]


tkolar: "Cuz honorary doctorates are very much real. They're doctorates awarded by universities by waiving course work in favor of contributions to an area of study"

and "The use of the "Doctor" appellation is somewhat controversial, but people as respected as Dr. Benjamin Franklin have adopted it based on honorary degrees."

Actually, honorary doctorates are academic back-patting. For genuine contributions to an area of study, people are given real doctorates. Using the honorific "Doctor" has fallen from favour in recent centuries, so it is a bit iffy. Even people with real Ph.D.'s don't use it that often in the US.

~Matt

p.s. would you use the honorific if someone gave you an honorary doctorate? I bet your friends would gently josh you about that!
posted by mdoar at 5:03 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


In a way they are, because they risk alienating their viewers who (I think it's fair to say) put at least a little trust in the show on the premise that it IS going to investigate what it claims to investigate.

Networks which air this kind of programming (and, mostly, the producers who create it) absolutely do not have a philosophy of "don't mislead the viewers."

What they have is a philosophy of "don't let the viewers know they're being misled."

It's the same as with any info-tainment show. They're not being held (or, really, holding themselves) to any standard but a ratings standard.
posted by dersins at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2007


My point was that the show can't hold the trust of its viewers there's a good chance that it will lose ratings, and that's what's ultimately important. I agree with you about the networks.
posted by clevershark at 5:10 PM on December 7, 2007


Ahem... "if the show can't hold the trust of its viewers..."
posted by clevershark at 5:11 PM on December 7, 2007


I like watching Mythbusters blow stuff up. If somebody is going to bury a pig under concrete, and dig into its stinking decay again, as preparation for finding Jimmy Hoffa, I'd rather it be them, than me. If they wanna try making a full sized Chevy fly under rocket power, I'll watch.

But I doubt they expect their efforts to be taken seriously (else why would they practice those maniacal laughs in pirate costumes, over ballistic gel dummies?), so I don't. Do I ever watch for science information? Yeah, like Kari's perky pigtails...
posted by paulsc at 5:12 PM on December 7, 2007


If they wanna try making a full sized Chevy fly under rocket power, I'll watch.

I hope you'll watch next week when they make a plane take off from a coveyor belt....
posted by dersins at 5:14 PM on December 7, 2007


"I hope you'll watch next week when they make a plane take off from a coveyor belt.... "
posted by dersins at 8:14 PM on December 7

Can't wait. Disappointingly, they didn't really get the Chevy airborne.
posted by paulsc at 5:21 PM on December 7, 2007


I bet your friends would gently josh you about that!

Nah, because I would convince them that it was a rap honorific. And since I'm going that route, why stop with just a doctorate?

I could be Sir Captain Doctor quin, esquire.

Beat that "Doctor" Dre.
posted by quin at 5:21 PM on December 7, 2007


they didn't really get the Chevy airborne.

It cleared the ramp.

A fact that I couldn't stop laughing over

posted by quin at 5:22 PM on December 7, 2007


I could be Sir Captain Doctor quin, esquire.

Archbishop Spiritual Warrior the Reverend Doctor dersins here. For reals.
posted by dersins at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2007


*grants honorary doctorate in hand-waving to Dr. T. Kolar, H.W.*
(for substantial contributions in the field)
posted by finite at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2007


As an aside I have to wonder what the big deal is with that "airplane on a conveyor belt" thing. A plane doesn't use a wheel-drive system to attain takeoff speed, it moves air using its engines!
posted by clevershark at 5:31 PM on December 7, 2007


Archbishop Spiritual Warrior the Reverend Doctor dersins here. For reals.

Cool! I'll pay to make my daddy a Canon, so I can say I'm a son of a gun!
posted by clevershark at 5:33 PM on December 7, 2007


so, um, while were waiting for asavage to pop up, who do you guys think is the most savagest?
adam, dan or fred?
posted by brevator at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2007


imagine all three savages as a hybrid.
posted by spish at 5:58 PM on December 7, 2007


I think of Dan Savage as the Dear Abby of buttfucking.
posted by Tube at 6:11 PM on December 7, 2007 [4 favorites]


Does that make Adam Savage the Bill Nye of buttfucking?
posted by dersins at 6:15 PM on December 7, 2007 [6 favorites]


Everybody knows Michael is the MOST Savage* and he's really a Weiner.

*defined as "lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings"
posted by wendell at 6:16 PM on December 7, 2007


I'd like to hear from asavage before we get the torches and pitchforks.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:18 PM on December 7, 2007


so, um, while were waiting for asavage to pop up, who do you guys think is the most savagest?
adam, dan or fred?


Wait, we forgot Ben!
posted by pupdog at 6:36 PM on December 7, 2007


more often than not they try to at least make some attempt to do near-science

That's actually a pretty good summary of why the show sucks.
posted by cillit bang at 6:39 PM on December 7, 2007


"Our degrees are widely accepted with alumni working all over the world, thanks to their degrees. We have had many alumni referred to us by empoyers to satisfy their degree requirements."

See? Empoyers all over the world send them referrals.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:46 PM on December 7, 2007


finite wrote....
*grants honorary doctorate in hand-waving to Dr. T. Kolar, H.W.*

Woohoo! My contributions to the field of hand-waving have finally been recognized!

That said, I got put off by the obvious axe-grindy nature of the blog and failed to do proper research on what "Suffield University" was.

So yeah, um, an honorary degree from Suffield University actually does indicate quackery. But their prices are good.
posted by tkolar at 6:57 PM on December 7, 2007


The one true Savage.
posted by landis at 7:00 PM on December 7, 2007


an honorary degree from a diploma mill? that's kinda like *double* phony there.

and his resume lists no baccalaureate or other higher degrees as well. triple phony.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:09 PM on December 7, 2007


Here's a tip: if someone's university has a .com or .org address and not a .edu one, that's a bad, bad sign.

Also, if they have a prominent link for "payment" and none at all for "location"--double bad.

I was amused by their online store, though.

Be proud of your Alma Mater! And show your school spirit. Are you interested in a class ring?

I bet if you look carefully, it's 2 point 4 carat gold.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:20 PM on December 7, 2007


As an aside I have to wonder what the big deal is with that "airplane on a conveyor belt" thing. A plane doesn't use a wheel-drive system to attain takeoff speed, it moves air using its engines!

Ah, no, you don't want to wonder that actually. Trust me, you're better off not knowing.
posted by jedicus at 9:25 PM on December 7, 2007


Help us asavage, your our only hope!
posted by parallax7d at 9:59 PM on December 7, 2007


As an aside I have to wonder what the big deal is with that "airplane on a conveyor belt" thing. A plane doesn't use a wheel-drive system to attain takeoff speed, it moves air using its engines!

Oh, god, no. Don't start this again.

I'm actually disappointed that Mythbusters of all shows would play into the persistent pseudoscience of the polygraph. It's right up there with throwing people in a lake to check for witches.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:11 PM on December 7, 2007




So, I work for myself, and never need to show anyone my education credentials (or, the lack thereof). However, it would amuse me to have a degree from a diploma mill. Would I be running afoul of any law if I bought one, and long as I didn't use it to try and defraud an employer, etc?*

* All bets are off if I get the chance to be deputy director Skinner or similar.
posted by maxwelton at 10:32 PM on December 7, 2007


It's right up there with throwing people in a lake to check for witches.

So if there aren't witches in the lake already, thew ones you throw in can establish a basecamp. From there, they'll slowly build up their Witchtonian society, one broomstraw at a time, until a good part of the lake can no longer be used for jet skiing.

Is that what you're talking about? I've slipped into [CONFUSION] mode this evening and am in need of assistance in drawing up scenarios related to Metafilter comments.
posted by item at 11:38 PM on December 7, 2007


So, I work for myself, and never need to show anyone my education credentials (or, the lack thereof). However, it would amuse me to have a degree from a diploma mill.

I have no idea what the laws regarding this stuff are, but I've been 517 PhD of everything for few years now.

Best Christmas gift to myself ever.
posted by 517 at 12:38 AM on December 8, 2007




Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine Tests the Polygraph and Lie Detection
posted by the other side at 7:13 AM on December 8, 2007


A few weeks back I sent asavage a MeFi Mail to let him know that my girlfriend and I like his hair and beard a whole lot more now that he's grown it out. I didn't expect a response, as he has a tv show and lives in California time, but we just thought it'd be nice to let him know that he should keep his hair parts longer. It gives him a bit of an edge on the program, as he now has the stylings that the rather distinguished types all clamor for.

As noted, no response was expected, so when I opened Metafilter & noticed I had 1 new message - from asavage. He wrote back a completely polite message, one I won't be sharing with you. Know, children, he cares for his Mifi brethren and will stop at nothing to make us continue to live our lives in the manner we're accustomed to.
posted by item at 9:49 AM on December 8, 2007


I'm actually disappointed that Mythbusters of all shows would play into the persistent pseudoscience of the polygraph. It's right up there with throwing people in a lake to check for witches.

To be fair, they also showed somebody who beat one of the polygraphs with almost no serious preparation.

If anything, it made me more sure that polygraphs could be beat easily by somebody who trained to do so.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 10:07 AM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


This entire thing is full of axegrinding, bad science, and bad journalism, but I do know one thing: polygraphs are shit.

They're no substitute for real detective work. If you want an alethiometer, you'll have to find your way into steampunk universe.
posted by tehloki at 11:14 AM on December 8, 2007


Anyone who understands the methodology employed in "lie detector" test understands that these machines no more test for honesty than IQ tests measure "intelligence". This is why the results of these tests are not permissible in court.

One hardly needs a TV show to confirm what is well understood by anyone who has studied this issue even casually ...

Is there any evidence that the polygraph is really able to detect lies? The machine measures changes in blood pressure, breath rate, and respiration rate. When a person lies it is assumed that these physiological changes occur in such a way that a trained expert can detect whether the person is lying. Is there a scientific formula or law which establishes a regular correlation between such physiological changes and lying? No. Is there any scientific evidence that polygraph experts can detect lies using their machine at a significantly better rate than non-experts using other methods? No. There are no machines and no experts that can detect with a high degree of accuracy when people, selected randomly, are lying and when they are telling the truth.

posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:13 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, the show was even *warned* about this guy ahead of time, and still held him up as an expert?

Just wow.
posted by mediareport at 5:27 PM on December 8, 2007


This is excellent! Just write letters to the producers of MythBusters exclaiming how that episode was for suck and you wanna see a rematch, where the polygraph is put to the test in a way that doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience.

No need for torches & pitchforks, or even for asavage to get his butt in here. This is something for them to put together for sweeps week next year.

Now the real question is: what's a foolproof clincher test that would prove or disprove the polygraph once and for all?
posted by ZachsMind at 7:42 PM on December 8, 2007


It certainly doesn't make someone a quack.

Not always, but believing in the accuracy of polygraphy does.
posted by meehawl at 8:30 PM on December 8, 2007


My Stepfather did some time decades ago, and would state that any good career criminal could beat a polygraph hands down by simply convincing themselves that they didn't commit the crime. They would imagine an Alibi over and over again until it became the truth in their head. He stated he was locked up with many a criminal that had, and would brag they could beat any polygraph machine, hands down, he was one of them. Of course they were probably all sociopaths, but I could see how easy it could be.
The easiest lies we believe are the ones we tell ourselves, and then they become the truth to us.
posted by highgene at 12:51 AM on December 9, 2007


what's a foolproof clincher test that would prove or disprove the polygraph once and for all?

I think a 5 minute segment on a sweeps television show is just the trick.
posted by cillit bang at 2:39 AM on December 9, 2007


Archbishop Spiritual Warrior the Reverend Doctor dersins here. For reals.

Oh dude! I am so buying one of these. I think I'll be The Very Esteemed Abbess Dejah, Apostle of Humility, Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality and the Right Reverend Mother of Soul.

The only problem is that now I'll have change all my Subgenius cards to add all the extra titles...
posted by dejah420 at 7:42 AM on December 10, 2007


clevershark writes "For those still skeptical, you should check out their price list. It would be remarkably good value for money if any actual education were involved!"

But begs the question of why anyone would only get an associate degree.

dersins writes "Hold on a second-- you actually think a show like Mythbusters should should be held to scientific or journalistic standards?"

Well I don't but the public often thinks they are the end all, be all of any debate which really cheezes me off sometimes.


Pater Aletheias writes "if someone's university has a .com or .org address and not a .edu one, that's a bad, bad sign."

Or, you know, they aren't a US university.
posted by Mitheral at 9:16 PM on December 10, 2007


My University is fake?
posted by tehloki at 12:18 PM on December 11, 2007


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