Feeds

US nuke boffins rubbish polygraph testing

Lie-detectors the biggest lie of all

High performance access to file storage

Lie detectors might work in the movies, but a US congressional report says that when it comes to screening nuclear scientists, you might as well reinstitute the ducking stool.

The US Congressional Research Service last month updated a report looking into the use of polygraphs or "lie detectors" in the US government.

The report specifically focuses on use of polygraph screening in the Department of Energy (DOE), which runs some of America's most sensitive nuclear labs and research programmes.

Large numbers of DOE personnel have been made to take routine polygraph tests since some embarrassing security breaches in the late '90s. These personnel are often highly qualified scientists, which causes some difficulties.

"Scientists do, in fact, represent a particular problem with regard to the administration of polygraphs," says the report. "They are most comfortable when dealing with techniques that are scientifically precise and reliable. The polygraph...does not meet this standard."

The American boffins seemingly don't much care for being examined using a technique they regard as little better than witchcraft.

"The attitude toward polygraphs at the laboratories...runs the gamut from cautiously and rationally negative, to emotionally and irrationally negative," according to the report's author, Alfred Cumming, a specialist in intelligence and security. "Many scientists...are skeptical of its utility."

Cumming frequently cites a highly-critical investigation into polygraph screening by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS polygraph-bashers did acknowledge that screening could have some deterrent effect, perhaps putting off the nefariously-inclined from applying for sensitive jobs.

However, they said this deterrent effect would only occur if people believed that polygraphs worked. As most scientists appear not to believe this, there would seem little point in using polygraphs to screen them for employment in the US nuclear programme.

However, polygraphs do have some advocates. Unsurprisingly, these include the American Polygraph Association (APA), "the country's largest association of polygraphers". Strangely enough, the APA says the lack of scientific evidence supporting lie-detector tests is down to limited funding.

Another friend to the polygraph, apparently, is the CIA. The spook agency "cited classified research to support its use of polygraph testing but declined to share its research". Well, it was secret.

"What is not subject to debate and appears to be beyond dispute is that the polygraph does not detect lies," writes Cumming.

Apart from the possibility of doing some serious research, the report concluded that Congress might consider two options for the future of polygraph screening at the DOE. Option one: use the polygraph less. Option two: stop using it altogether. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.