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Are Lie Detectors The Cure For Corrupt NJ Politicians?

The problems with New Jersey politicians and corruption are bad enough to drive some to the desperate and dubious notion that all political candidates and officeholders submit to lie-detector tests.

The Associated Press reports:

TRENTON, N.J. - A political consultant proposed a last-ditch effort to lawmakers Monday to help rid the state of its reputation for political corruption: Require lie-detector tests for
candidates and officeholders.

George Dredden told members of the New Jersey Assembly Republican Policy Committee that the polygraph tests would be a means of reform for a state where more than 130 public officials have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of corruption this decade.

"I know it's out of the box," said Dredden, who has worked on several political campaigns, including state Sen. Joe Pennacchio's run for U.S. Senate in 2008. "But we've done some things to get us into the box."

Of course, there's no evidence that polygraph tests would stop those committed to using political office to illegally like their pockets.

As an article on the American Psychological Association website notes, psychologists pretty much agree there's not much data to support the effectiveness of lie-detector tests to sort out truth from lies.

The accuracy (i.e., validity) of polygraph testing has long been controversial. An underlying problem is theoretical: There is no evidence that any pattern of physiological reactions is unique to deception. An honest person may be nervous when answering truthfully and a dishonest person may be non-anxious. Also, there are few good studies that validate the ability of polygraph procedures to detect deception. As Dr. Saxe and Israeli psychologist Gershon Ben-Shahar (1999) note, "it may, in fact, be impossible to conduct a proper validity study." In real-world situations, it's very difficult to know what the truth is.

A particular problem is that polygraph research has not separated placebo-like effects (the subject's belief in the efficacy of the procedure) from the actual relationship between deception and their physiological responses. One reason that polygraph tests may appear to be accurate is that subjects who believe that the test works and that they can be detected may confess or will be very anxious when questioned. If this view is correct, the lie detector might be better called a fear detector.

Then there is this excerpt:

Polygraph testing has generated considerable scientific and public controversy. Most psychologists and other scientists agree that there is little basis for the validity of polygraph tests. Courts, including the United States Supreme Court (cf. U.S. v. Scheffer, 1998 in which Dr.'s Saxe's research on polygraph fallibility was cited), have repeatedly rejected the use of polygraph evidence because of its inherent unreliability. Nevertheless, polygraph testing continues to be used in non-judicial settings, often to screen personnel, but sometimes to try to assess the veracity of suspects and witnesses, and to monitor criminal offenders on probation. Polygraph tests are also sometimes used by individuals seeking to convince others of their innocence and, in a narrow range of circumstances, by private agencies and corporations...

... For now, although the idea of a lie detector may be comforting, the most practical advice is to remain skeptical about any conclusion wrung from a polygraph.

It's hard to imagine this idea of giving candidates and officials lie-detector tests will go anywhere . The makers and administrators of lie detectors tests might want to wait before they begin setting up offices in Trenton.