Don’t even go, if you’re going to sabotage your own damn self.
August 6, 2015 11:09 AM   Subscribe

"Doug Williams used to give polygraph exams. Now he’s going to prison for teaching people how to beat them" -- the true story of a polygraph critic and coach arrested in a sting operation.
Luley displayed a striking compulsion for detailed self-incrimination. “If I tell them that I sold drugs in the jail when I was a jailer, can they use that against me?” he asked at one point. He also mentioned that he’d “messed around” sexually with a 14-year-old drug suspect after interviewing her.
posted by grobstein (36 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
that sows fear and mistrust, ruining careers by tarring truthful people as liars.
As much as I hate the idea of polygraphs, if you're trying to beat a polygraph aren't you kind of a liar QED?
posted by Talez at 11:20 AM on August 6, 2015


I first assumed that pull quote was describing the coach, not the sting informant!
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:34 AM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Talez, that assumes that polygraphs never produce false positives.
posted by rustcrumb at 11:34 AM on August 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


Using criminal prosecution to prevent people from learning how to fool a test doesn’t suggest great confidence in that test’s diagnostic power.

THIS SO HARD
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:35 AM on August 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


"One day, his sister told him she needed to take a polygraph for a job at a nightclub. Williams said she should prepare, that innocent people can fail the test just from nerves."

This sounds about right to me. I've known people in my previous job who failed their poly multiple times just due to being too nervous about the test. It's pretty nerve-wracking, even if you are being completely truthful. Of course, when you're getting a clearance, you have to sign what amounts to an NDA that says you won't discuss anything about it, so ignorance of the system is a big factor to it "Working".
posted by KGMoney at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


As much as I hate the idea of polygraphs, if you're trying to beat a polygraph aren't you kind of a liar QED?

No. The idea that polygraphs are based on any kind of science or that you won't be incriminated no matter what you say is bullshit.
posted by dilaudid at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2015 [27 favorites]


"Why you so nervous son?" asked the US marshal with his hand resting on his pearl handled revolver.

"Because I am Canadian and you have your hand on your gun" - Me.

"Fair 'nuff"
posted by srboisvert at 11:44 AM on August 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


As much as I hate the idea of polygraphs, if you're trying to beat a polygraph aren't you kind of a liar QED?

This assumes that a polygraph has anything to do with telling whether someone is lying.

In essence a polygraph has no meaningful output. It's a machine that makes some noises and draws a line that are then "interpreted" by an "expert" in much the same way that tea leaves or a pattern of scattered animal bones might be "interpreted" by an "expert". Williams teaches people how to make it more difficult for such an "expert" to incriminate them based on the output of the machine, regardless of the facts, because "regardless of the facts" is the only way such a machine produces incrimination.
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:46 AM on August 6, 2015 [26 favorites]


You know, one of the two principal men who invented the lie detector test also invented Wonder Woman's truth-telling lasso.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:48 AM on August 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


Using criminal prosecution to prevent people from learning how to fool a test doesn’t suggest great confidence in that test’s diagnostic power.

As a policy, it should work perfectly. Everyone knows the internet means that information wants to be confidential.
posted by jaduncan at 11:50 AM on August 6, 2015


I have white coat syndrome with regards to my pulse. Anytime anyone measures it (including me), it starts to increase, once hitting 120 while I say there, feeling completely calm.

I suspect that if I ever took a polygraph test, that would be enough for me to fail it.
posted by Hactar at 11:52 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is no such thing as "beating" a polygraph. Polygraphy is a fraud. You can no more pass or fail a polygraph than you can pass or fail a Scientology audit or a phrenological examination.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:52 AM on August 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


The Mr Show "Lie Detector" sketch, because if I don't someone else will.
posted by JHarris at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


This podcast discusses another type of lie detection procedure, interviewing a subject in depth about a particular experience, then transcribing that interview into text and counting the unique words used. Apparently people who are lying struggle to produce distinct details about their activities, and so their transcripts are smaller and contain fewer unique words.

Still, this technique probably only works against people who have not practiced to defeat it.
posted by rustcrumb at 11:57 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is no process that can infallibly tell whether someone is telling the truth or not. It might be possible to use statistics to produce a profile of an "average" person, then compare that to an interviewee's responses, both verbal and physiological, in a way that might suggest whether that person is lying or not. But "suggesting" isn't objective, and that system is vulnerable to both false negatives and positives, especially if the person being queried isn't "average," whatever that means.

Not to mention, the concept of "truth" itself is illusory, and there certainly are cases where an insistence on literal truth can be itself tremendously misleading, sometimes, on the part of prosecutors, intentionally so.
posted by JHarris at 12:07 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]




How to Beat a Polygraph Test
posted by bukvich at 12:30 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


My life has intersected with the polygraph for a long time and in my opinion it is the modern equivalent of tossing witches into a pond to see whether they float.

When I was receiving my doctorate, a fellow student in our department was Drew Richardson, who went on to be the FBIs leading expert and critic of polygraphs. I participated as a guinea pig in some of his experiments. (normal volunteer) He had what seemed like a reasonable idea for a dissertation: Do drugs such as sedatives (or stimulants) effect the ability to detect deception in the polygraph. As he described it at the time, when he looked into the background research he ran across a problem, there was no scientific way in which polygraphs could be designated as passed or failed. It was a judgment call on the "expert's" part. (A fair bit of work has been done on this since then. Not that it matters, the expert still rules.)

Flash forward, I have extensively studied the case involving the West Memphis Three and have a website with about 150,000 words devoted to it. In this case polygraphs ran the police investigations. Even if you were a good suspect, if you passed the polygraph you were declared not under investigation. Even if you missed questions (and 13 out of 41 of those polygraphed did) your wrong answers were rationalized away.

Two weeks before the murders the police drug task force was under investigation for theft. All 12 of the officers passed the polygraph. In interrogation the same officers turned on one another in a shark-feeding frenzy. It seems all 12 had lied.

Polygraphs are less accurate than good police work and poison good police work. They should be eliminated.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:31 PM on August 6, 2015 [41 favorites]


I thought all you needed to do to best a lie detector was to stuck a needle under your fingernail. Please don't tell me I can't trust Grant Ward now.
posted by happyroach at 12:32 PM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is no process that can infallibly tell whether someone is telling the truth or not

Yet! fMRI technology might advance to the point where it is at least somewhat reliable. "Infallible" is probably a fool's errand, though, since I doubt such a thing exists in any context.
posted by Justinian at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is no process that can infallibly tell whether someone is telling the truth or not.

Investigational fMRI techniques exist now that are as close as we are likely to get.
posted by mrdaneri at 12:40 PM on August 6, 2015


JINX
posted by mrdaneri at 12:40 PM on August 6, 2015


I always felt bad for Saul Berenson when he had to take a polygraph.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:51 PM on August 6, 2015


To be fair... Investigational fMRIs still fall victim to the same core problems that the polygraph does: they still needs to be interpreted. They're great for identifying tumors, but not so great at determining what the tumor was thinking at 9 PM on the night of the incident. Or whether or not the addition of a US Marshal with his hand on a pearl handled revolver affects the tumor in a positive or negative way.
posted by Blue_Villain at 1:03 PM on August 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


The problem with polygraphs isn't that they need to be interpreted in and of itself, it's that there is no actual scientific baseline against which they are to be interpreted. Consider: EKGs must also be interpreted. That doesn't mean they aren't extremely useful and don't tell us important information about heart health.

So, sure, fMRI will need to be interpreted. But so does pretty much any medical test you care to name. Hell, an X-Ray needs to be interpreted even if the interpretation is just "yep, its broken".
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on August 6, 2015


Yup. The medical term for interpretation possibly subject to some opinion or general subjectivity is "impression," and every x-ray study needs one documented to get paid
posted by aydeejones at 1:57 PM on August 6, 2015


Metafilter: [T]he interpretation is just "yep, it's broken".
posted by riverlife at 2:02 PM on August 6, 2015




riverlife: "'can fail [Metafilter] just from nerves'".
posted by riverlife at 2:25 PM on August 6, 2015


It may not work but god damn it gets people to admit things. From the Associated Press today.

A man who prosecutors say admitted while applying for a Missouri State Highway Patrol job that he had had sexual contact with several underage girls was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison.

Cedric Lovejoy, 29, of Plato, was undergoing a polygraph test in November 2012 when he was asked if he had ever committed any criminal offense. He responded that he had "engaged in sexual acts with three minor females and recorded the acts on several different occasions," according to court documents.

Three weeks later, the patrol served a search warrant on Lovejoy's home and found video footage recorded in July 2009 of a 14-year-old performing a sex act on him. Lovejoy was 23 at the time the video was recorded.

Initially charged with two counts of sexually exploiting a child, he pleaded guilty last December to one count of sexual exploitation as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

posted by Naberius at 2:58 PM on August 6, 2015


In 1964-65 I worked at a McDonald's, a franchise then. The manager/owner thought he was losing money. The staff were sent, one at a time, to a lie detector outfit. This was a grubby little place in a strip mall. The polygraph operator sat up behind a high podium, looking down on the person being tested. The guy asks me some questions, a lot of them not about theft, but about other job practices. Had I seen any of the staff drinking on the job, for instance. After a while, the guy rips the paper out of the machine and brings it down to the wooden chair where I am strapped in. He points to a wiggle in the lines, "You're lying! See that?" I can read in the margin where he wrote the question that he asked at the time, "Is your name..?" I say, no, I'm not lying. He yells at me some, threatens me, but I wasn't lying. So I go back to McDonald's. They take me off the window, where I handled money and dealt with customers, and put me behind the grill. The guy who replaces me at the window has a speech impediment. I am pissed off. I tell the manager that I feel like I'm being accused of a crime and I want it cleared up. The regional manger comes down and yells at me, says the manager can do what he wants. I mention a lawyer. McDonald's brings in a new lie detector guy. We meet at a motel. He has a portable lie detector in a leather case, like an attache case. We go through the routine. After, he doesn't yell or accuse. Later, I hear that the guy told my manager that I hadn't been stealing but had done something wrong, somewhere, sometime, and felt guilty about it. I only had a month or so to go before I went back to school, so I didn't quit. Nor did they fire me, maybe because I mentioned a lawyer, but they don't put me back on a window. About a year later, I ran into one of my co-workers who told me that the manager discovered that there was no theft, that his adding machine was faulty.

I hate lie detectors.
posted by CCBC at 3:10 PM on August 6, 2015 [23 favorites]


> It may not work but god damn it gets people to admit things.

No, belief that it works gets people to admit things. You could just as easily go with the old Electrolyte Neutron Magnetic Scanner Test, as seen on Homicide: Life on the Streets, and on The Wire.

Plenty of interrogation techniques involve manipulating the subject into believing the question knows, or can know, more than they really do, and the Polygraph is just one of them, slightly polluted by some biometric noise for which there's no scientific foundation to the idea that it supports or refutes a claim of truth. If polygraphs could really do this, machines could read them, but no, it requires a trained hairless ape to do the "interpretation."
posted by Sunburnt at 3:47 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Plenty of interrogation techniques involve manipulating the subject into believing the question knows, or can know, more than they really do

What kills me is that he was arrested because he "knowingly help[ed] someone lie to a federal agent." It doesn't matter that the success of the test relies on the fact that people think something about it that isn't true. It's not at all an issue that lawful interrogators area allowed to use deception in questioning and are protected legally in doing so. It's not that lying is inherently wrong, per se. It's that the person lying is not on the right side of power.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:11 PM on August 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Polygraphs are pretty much just trial by ordeal.

I got into a standoff once with an NCIS guy doing an investigation. He kept asking if I "would be willing" to do a polygraph and implying dire consequences for people who "weren't cooperative with the investigation" but carefully not actually saying I was required to do it. For my part I kept saying I'd rather not do it and that I would not volunteer to do it, but carefully not saying I would refuse if it was actually a condition of my employment. He ended up telling me as ominously as he could that he would discuss the matter with my director. I never heard from NCIS again and my director didn't know what I was talking about when I mentioned it later.
posted by ctmf at 10:24 PM on August 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Really? No one remembers when Seinfeld dealt with "The Lie Detector"?

George's sage advice

Jerry vs. the machine

More seriously, this is a fascinating story and subject. I wish Williams all the best.
posted by bryon at 12:39 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]




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