Feeds

US nuke boffins rubbish polygraph testing

Lie-detectors the biggest lie of all

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
OK Google, do I have CANCER?
Company talks up pill that would spot developing tumors
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
How to simplify SSL certificate management
Simple steps to take control of SSL certificates across the enterprise, and recommendations centralizing certificate management throughout their lifecycle.