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Scientist Organizes Resistance To Polygraphs 405

Posted by kdawson
from the drugs-lies-and-security-clearances dept.
George Maschke writes "Brad Holian, a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is using a blog to organize resistance to plans for random polygraph and drug testing of Lab scientists. Holian writes: 'Polygraphy is an insulting affront to scientists, since a committee of the National Academy of Sciences has declared that, beyond being inadmissible in court, there is no scientific basis for polygraphs. In my opinion, by agreeing to be polygraphed, one thereby seriously jeopardizes his or her claim to being a scientist, which is presumably the principal reason for employment for many scientists at Los Alamos.'"
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Scientist Organizes Resistance To Polygraphs

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  • by PurifyYourMind (776223) on Monday January 01, 2007 @04:56PM (#17425252) Homepage
    The idea is to convince people to *believe* that the polygraph machine is scientific and will detect their lies so that they're more likely to not lie, or are nervous while questioning, or even don't take the test at all and just spill it beforehand. It's psychological intimidation, kind of like forcing confessions of bad thoughts in a cult environment. That's one reason you see those "you shall not be subjected to polygraphs at work" posters at your job... a nasty employer could really intimidate people (e.g. union organizers) with it.
    • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:22PM (#17425530)
      So polygraph is a very expensive baseball bat?

      "It would be a shame if something were to happen with your kneecaps..."
    • They do not work (Score:5, Informative)

      by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @01:06AM (#17429266) Journal
      Back in the 80's, I was a restaurant manager. At the time I had a theft problem. At one point, some money showed up on one of my employees. I had her take the test and she failed. I ended up firing her, all the while thinking that it could not be her. Turned out that the problem continued and it was somebody else. I fired an innocent gal based on that shit. There is nothing that would convince that that crap works. It is pure voodoo and is absolutely worthless. IMO, you would be better off casting bones then polygraphs. At least you do not subject the person to total humiliation.
    • by kripkenstein (913150) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @01:14AM (#17429298) Homepage
      Polygraphs work--sorta [...] The idea is to convince people to *believe* that the polygraph machine is scientific and will detect their lies so that they're more likely to not lie, or are nervous while questioning, or even don't take the test at all and just spill it beforehand.

      1) Relying on people believing a lie is bad policy. Especially if some of those aware of the truth (that it's a lie) refuse to take it, and are then fired.

      2) And this 'sorta working' is very unreliable. Even if you know it's a lie, you can still get nervous while taking the test - just because you know that all they are doing is checking how nervous you are. So the tester can't know what a person acting nervous during the polygraph means - could be guilty, could be innocent.

      3) Actually, polygraphs can be used in a scientifically correct manner, but nearly never are. The WRONG way is to ask questions like 'did you kill Mike?' - which make anyone nervous, guilty or innocent. The RIGHT way is to do a randomized statistical test, as follows: say Mike was killed by a shotgun, a fact which only the police know. You can then ask the suspect the following questions: "was Mike killed by a rifle?" "[...] a shotgun?" "[...] a handgun?" "[...] a knife?" etc. etc. Only the killer would know the true weapon, so if your suspect reacts differently to the 'shotgun' question, that would be informative. Of course other elements would also have to be statistically accounted for: you'd need to ask several controls the same questions (just to see that "shotgun" isn't a word that evokes special responses in general); to randomize the order of the questions; to have the person asking the questions not know the answers; and so forth. Basically, to do the same things you'd do in a scientific experiment.

      But this is (a) hard and time-consuming, and (b) not always possible (you need information only the killer would know).
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Durandal64 (658649)

        No, polygraphs are just bullshit, period. There is no scientific way to employ them because they make a fatally flawed assumption: that lying causes increases in vital measurements. There is absolutely no evidence at all to support this assumption. Increases in vitals like body temperature, perspiration and heart rate correlate with nervousness, not deception. Furthermore, a suspect reacting to the word "shotgun" is not informative in the slightest. The shotgun from Doom might've just been his favorite weap

        • by kripkenstein (913150) on Tuesday January 02, 2007 @02:45AM (#17429656) Homepage
          No, polygraphs are just bullshit, period. There is no scientific way to employ them because they make a fatally flawed assumption: that lying causes increases in vital measurements.

          Common polygraph use assumes that lying causes increases in vital measurements, yes. But notice that what I mentioned in my post was a difference in vital measurements. If you get enough randomized trials, you can conduct a statistical test just like of every other scientific hypothesis.

          Yes, perhaps some people react more to "shotgun", and some respond less. If, out of 100 people, the suspected killer reacts in a not-statistically-significantly-different manner, then that is one thing. But if, on the other hand, he reacts in a unique way, then the odds of that occurring were he not privy to information about the shotgun would be 1% (i.e. the Null Hypothesis is that all 100 people tested are the same, so the chance that a single person has a different result by chance, and that that person is our suspect, is at most 1 in 100 - speaking in general terms).

          Increases in vitals like body temperature, perspiration and heart rate correlate with nervousness, not deception.

          Agreed, which is why an increase in these vitals in a single individual is not enough, by itself, to show anything.

          Furthermore, a suspect reacting to the word "shotgun" is not informative in the slightest. The shotgun from Doom might've just been his favorite weapon in that game. Or he might have some other past traumatic experience with a shotgun. It means nothing.

          As I said above, this is possible, yes - it can occur by chance. But by a correct statistical test, you can check whether the reaction is explainable by coincidence or not. This is exactly the same way surveys are done or experiments in medicine or the social sciences. (Of course it isn't perfect, but then nothing is 100% perfect; the law can convict above a reasonable doubt.)

          Polygraphs are just another interrogation tool to make the suspect feel more powerless and make the interrogator look more powerful.

          Agreed. Polygraphs, as they are commonly used, are useless or worse than useless (dishonest, easily abused, etc.). But what I wrote in the post you are responding to is something completely different.

          A note about the basic science behind this stuff: there is plenty of evidence of bodily responses to familiar stimuli (for example the cognitive psychology literature on 'priming', also electrophysiology, etc.). However, the commonly-used polygraph may not use the measures proven to work. If all it does is test blood pressure and GSR (galvanic skin response), then we may be right to be skeptical (although perhaps research on GSR has improved in recent years - I don't know). However, things like EEG are also non-invasive and easy to test, and research has shown them to be informative about various things. So: even if the commonly-used polygraph is a sham, correct use of science and statistics can be used to devise a better method, and hopefully things will continue to progress in that direction.
  • Polygraphs ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Monday January 01, 2007 @04:57PM (#17425266)
    I guess I can understand polygraphy IF it's at all accurate. After all, they are dealing with dangerous (from a proliferation standpoint) materials and experiments critical to national security. As for drug testing, I think it should only happen if an employee is exhibiting other problems at work, if then. And it also depends what drug is being tested for. Is there any evidence that enjoying the occasional herbal treat harms work performance in any material way?

    -b.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nuzak (959558)
      > I guess I can understand polygraphy IF it's at all accurate.

      It is not. It is junk pseudoscience, and has debunked over and over and over. And no, it is not just some psy-ops thing as one other poster said -- people actually put their faith in these things.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by polar red (215081)
      a thought crosses my mind about caffeine being a drug,caffeine certainly displays some properties of drugs(addiction, stimulating effect) I like to see the first employer to try to eradicate caffeine at work !
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Several years ago I read something somewhere that started off --- in the manner of a PBS documentary: (major paraphrasing) Imagine there was a drug discovered in the wild. It was given to people and their symptoms were an increase in blood pressure, hyperactivity, shakes, (extensive list of effects, leading the reader to consider that outlawing the substance might be a good idea, considering that several substances were outlawed already).

        Then, at the end: Surprise --- it's caffeine!

        I don't remember the
        • by Sique (173459) on Monday January 01, 2007 @06:31PM (#17426226) Homepage
          Caffeine should be banned, as should be DHMO [dhmo.org].

          We should also ban a substance from food where a single ounce already is deadly. But you can buy a substance like this in food stores in packages of a quarter pound and more: Sodiumchloride (NaCl), better known as SALT.

          And we need to ban fruits whose main taste is provided by a substance (Furaneol and Methoxyfuraneol), which is deadly if taken in micrograms. Lets ban strawberry.
    • by ScentCone (795499)
      And it also depends what drug is being tested for. Is there any evidence that enjoying the occasional herbal treat harms work performance in any material way?

      Across the board? Hard to say. Have I met, worked with, or been exposed to obvious stoners that are clearly and continually unfocused, un-energetic, bad on short-term memory, and always looking for free food at meetings? Yes. Should any use of the word "dude" at the workplace result in immediate termination? Double-plus-extra yes.
      • Re:Polygraphs ... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:16PM (#17425482)
        Have I met, worked with, or been exposed to obvious stoners that are clearly and continually unfocused, un-energetic, bad on short-term memory, and always looking for free food at meetings?

        There's a huge difference between drug use and drug *abuse*. Profile based on behaviour, not based on chemical testing. If someone's a lazy obnoxious git, by all means fire him if he doesn't shape up, regardless of the reason.

        This is like the difference between a red-faced drunkard and someone that has a glass of wine at dinner.

        -b.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Insightfill (554828)
          There's a huge difference between drug use and drug *abuse*. Profile based on behaviour, not based on chemical testing. If someone's a lazy obnoxious git, by all means fire him if he doesn't shape up, regardless of the reason.

          For larger organizations, esp. government or those that work with the government, it can be very difficult to fire anyone after hiring them, regardless of cause. For example, I understand that at Motorola, an employee who fails a drug test is offered firing or on-the-clock drug coun

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Have I met, worked with, or been exposed to obvious stoners that are clearly and continually unfocused, un-energetic, bad on short-term memory...

        Yes! I read and post on Slashdot.

      • by Pakaran2 (138209)
        I've never used marijuana. That said, from everything I've read, there's no *long term* lack of motivation. The people you're thinking of were likely under the influence *at the time*. Likely if someone had a long island iced tea on the way into work, they'd be acting the same. And at that point they should be disciplined for lack of productivity, or otherwise for fallings hort of expectations. What substance, if any, made them that way, or whether they simply didn't feel like being productive, is besi
      • by forkazoo (138186)

        Across the board? Hard to say. Have I met, worked with, or been exposed to obvious stoners that are clearly and continually unfocused, un-energetic, bad on short-term memory, and always looking for free food at meetings? Yes. Should any use of the word "dude" at the workplace result in immediate termination? Double-plus-extra yes.

        But, at that point, shouldn't they be fired for being stoners, rather than the fact that they like to get stoned? I mean, if a worker is useless, why bother with a drug test at al

    • Re:Polygraphs ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ximenes (10) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:11PM (#17425414)
      I don't think this is about work performance at all, rather its about ferreting out people who are more susceptible to being forced into stealing government secrets or who might do so on their own without coercion.

      If I have a serious heroin problem, I may get myself into so much debt and other trouble that I wind up being used by some foreign spy group or something (if I worked at Los Alamos of course). Or maybe I don't want my habit getting out and therefore can be blackmailed. That sort of thing. This is similar to how homosexual people have been targetted in prior decades; not because a gay person can't do the work, but because having this secret you really want to keep means you can be blackmailed with it.
      • Wasn't one of the worst betrayals [wikipedia.org] caused by a CIA agent's wife spending all his money? (And he passed a couple polygraph tests, too...)
      • Err, You must be new here!

        Back to the topic, I remember reading in the biography of John Nash, that he was fired from RAND for his homosexual tendencies, along with some other people, while in fact some of those people were completely open about it. The policy was to get rid of homosexuals, but there was no proper risk assessment done, if there is any blackmail potential to it, etc. The McCarthy era witchhunts did more harm than good and same applies to not properly evaluating the risk of blackmail or ide
      • Exactly the point. You are susceptible to influence and may compromise national secrets. Blackmail, ideology, money, and thrill-seeking (I think there's one more) are the top reasons for why people sell out their country.

        Supposedly money will get you info, but they won't put their necks out. Ideology gets you great info, but they're unstable. Thrill seekers are james-bond wannabees... and blackmail, well, people do things to protect their dirty secrets.

        All I gotta say is "Tough Shit". If you want them
      • by Copid (137416)
        Part of a typical investigation is a pretty detailed examination of your financial status and habits for the very reasons you mentioned. If you start getting into financial trouble, you can expect them to find out over the course of your reinvestigation. Regardless of the cause, it's unstable finances that are the problem. Just monitor those.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Giometrix (932993)
      "I guess I can understand polygraphy IF it's at all accurate. After all, they are dealing with dangerous (from a proliferation standpoint) materials and experiments critical to national security. As for drug testing, I think it should only happen if an employee is exhibiting other problems at work, if then. And it also depends what drug is being tested for. Is there any evidence that enjoying the occasional herbal treat harms work performance in any material way?"

      They are NOT accurate. A friend of mine lie
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        I don't even think that the employers even CARE if the test is accurate...

        It also weeds out people that answers questions without thinking. From what I've heard, if you interview with the NSA or CIA and they ask "have you ever given money to a foreign organization?" and your answer is an unthinking "no", this weeds you out. After all, you buy stuff from foreign companies all of the time without even realizing it.

        -b.

    • Re:Polygraphs ... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by king-manic (409855) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:25PM (#17425554)
      I guess I can understand polygraphy IF it's at all accurate. After all, they are dealing with dangerous (from a proliferation standpoint) materials and experiments critical to national security. As for drug testing, I think it should only happen if an employee is exhibiting other problems at work, if then. And it also depends what drug is being tested for. Is there any evidence that enjoying the occasional herbal treat harms work performance in any material way?

      I think a drug test is meaningless. I know a significant numbe rof recreational pot and E users to function fine at work. I think a credit check is better. One check and it will tell you the likelyhood of Scientist x selling yoru secrets to the chinese/russians/islamists/EU. People who tend to do these things tend to have financial problems ot start with.
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        I think a credit check is better.

        Although still not perfect. Drug dealers and loan sharks would be unlikely to report outstanding debts. They tend to have other slightly more effective ways of dealing with the situation.

        -b.

      • by bigberk (547360)

        I think a credit check is better. One check and it will tell you the likelyhood of Scientist x selling yoru secrets to the chinese/russians/islamists/EU. People who tend to do these things tend to have financial problems ot start with.

        lol, yeah implement credit checks in the USA aka creditland... everyone will be a suspect! The average US household requires debt to operate daily (we have a negative savings rate) and millions of homeowners have no hope in hell of paying off their IO mortgages which will reset to higher interest rates this year.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        I think a credit check is better.
        Of course they already do those, too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)
        I think a credit check is better. One check and it will tell you the likelyhood of Scientist x selling yoru secrets to the chinese/russians/islamists/EU. People who tend to do these things tend to have financial problems ot start with.

        Not the chinese. Their favorite method is to find someone of chinese origins and then convince them that sharing information is a duty of one sort another, patriotic or for the good of any family they still have back in China. That's an over simplification, but the chinese m
    • by guruevi (827432)
      You should know from different sources (has been on Mythbusters too) that drug tests will turn positive even from eating some poppy-seeds found in bagels etc.? Drug tests are way too sensitive but if they weren't they shouldn't detect real substance (ab)use. We all use drugs in one or another way (computers, coffee, pot, cola, alcohol, tobacco, poppy-seeds, ...). It's the pathological abuse that would have a serious effect on people's work performance, conditions or the threat to other co-workers around you
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        Of course truckers shouldn't smoke pot or drink alcohol

        They shouldn't work while they're affected by the drug. What they do on weekends or vacations is their own choice, so long as they come to work sober and alert.

        -b.

  • Richard Feynmann (Score:5, Interesting)

    by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:00PM (#17425298)
    I read his memoirs in high school. If half of what he claims that he did is true, I suspect that he'd have lasted about a day in the Los Alamos of today. Damn shame, really. A lot of the brightest people like to play with different consciousness states as well as being inveterate pranksters.

    Cheers,
    -b.

    • by Pakaran2 (138209)
      If I read the same book you're thinking of, what Feynmann did was LSD, sensory deprivation, and women. One of those can show up in urine for 72 hours (so take it on the friday before memorial day weekend - he never took it frequently - and the others not at all. Unless you read something different from what I'm thinking of?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Per Abrahamsen (1397)
        His unauthorized tests of the security system (safe-cracking, letters to his wife) would have landed him in jail today.

        I don't believe he his written any books about his youth. A non-scientist friend of his wrote

        - Surely you are joking, mister Feynmann
        - What do you care what other people think

        based on conversation with Feynmann, those two books were very popular in college.
      • Well, I'd say that another of those could also show up in your urine for a long time to come, unless you take the proper regimen of antibiotics. I'm just sayin'...
  • What a genius idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:05PM (#17425344)
    From the DOE [fas.org]:
    I. Introduction

            DOE's existing counterintelligence polygraph regulations are set
    forth at 10 CFR part 709. Under section 3152(a) of the National Defense
    Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, Pub. L. 107-107 (NDAA for FY
    2002), DOE is obligated to prescribe revised regulations for a new
    counterintelligence polygraph program the stated purpose of which is
    ``* * * to minimize the potential for release or disclosure of
    classified data, materials, or information'' (42 U.S.C. 7383h-1(a).)
    Section 3152(b) requires DOE to ``* * * take into account the results
    of the Polygraph Review,'' which is defined by section 3152 (e) to mean
    ``* * * the review of the Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence
    on the Polygraph of the National Academy of Sciences'' (42 U.S.C.
    7383h-1(b), (e)).

    So they attached this to one of those emergency defense appropriation bills:
    SEC. 3152. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY COUNTERINTELLIGENCE POLYGRAPH PROGRAM.

    (a) NEW COUNTERINTELLIGENCE POLYGRAPH PROGRAM REQUIRED.-The Secretary of Energy shall carry out, under regulations prescribed under this section, a new counterintelligence polygraph program for the Department of Energy. The purpose of the new program is to minimize the potential for release or disclosure of classified data, materials, or information.

    (b) AUTHORITIES AND LIMITATIONS.-(1) The Secretary shall prescribe regulations for the new counterintelligence polygraph program required by subsection (a) in accordance with the provisions of subchapter II of

    chapter 5 of title 5, United States Code (commonly referred to as the Administrative Procedures Act).

    (2) In prescribing regulations for the new program, the Secretary shall take into account the results of the Polygraph Review.

    (3) Not later than six months after obtaining the results of the Polygraph Review, the Secretary shall issue a notice of proposed rulemaking for the new program.

    (c) REPEAL OF EXISTING POLYGRAPH PROGRAM.-Effective 30 days after the Secretary submits to the congressional defense committees the Secretarys certification that the final rule for the new counterintelligence

    polygraph program required by subsection (a) has been fully implemented, section 3154 of the Department of Energy Facilities Safeguards, Security, and Counterintelligence Enhancement Act of 1999 (subtitle D of title XXI of Public Law 106-65; 42 U.S.C. 7383h) is repealed.

    (d) REPORT ON FURTHER ENHANCEMENT OF PERSONNEL SECURITY PROGRAM.-(1) Not later than January 1, 2003, the Administrator for Nuclear Security shall submit to Congress a report setting forth the recommendations of the Administrator for any legislative action that the Administrator considers appropriate in order to enhance the personnel security program of the Department of Energy.

    (2) Any recommendations under paragraph (1) regarding the use of polygraphs shall take into account the results of the Polygraph Review.

    (e) POLYGRAPH REVIEW DEFINED.-In this section, the term "Polygraph Review" means the review of the Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Your Congress at work.
  • by hughk (248126) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:13PM (#17425432) Journal
    The FSB, the spun off domestic branch of the KGB like to promote the use of the polygraph amongst companies in russia to ensure employee lotyalty (Yes, I was at one of their presentations a few years back). The joke is that itt was revealed by Vasily Mitrokhin (the KGB Archivist and defector)that faking your way through a polygraph test was simply a matter of training. In other words, the polygraph may catch the person stealing paperclips but it probably won't find the trained spy.
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      The FSB, the spun off domestic branch of the KGB like to promote the use of the polygraph amongst companies in russia to ensure employee lotyalty

      Bah, that's so 1990s. Now they just provide free sample packets of polonium to bosses to help them deal with disloyal employees.

      -b.

  • I mean, really...

    Isn't it kind of obvious when someone's personal life is interfering with their professional life?
    Is it so hard to take the cue from the rest of the world, where such nonsense is not even considered (with no apparent ill effects)?
    • What is it with Americans and drug tests

      Three points not made in the thread above are:

      • The poly can have the effect of letting you know you're accountable (probably its least-worst feature)
      • The poly employs a bunch of people
      • The poly is a perfectly legal discriminatory tool

      As seen in CivIV: "The bureaucracy is expanding to support the needs of an expanding bureaucracy."
      Noise like the poly is merely a side effect of the kudzu-esque bureaucracy.

    • One would think that it was obvious that a scientist (or any other employee) who do a good job should keep his or her job, and someone who does a poor job should be fired. It is the responsibility of the management to determine who belong to each category. For small companies, where management is typically close to or equivalent with the owner, this is also how it works.

      For large organizations, for some reason management is often afraid to fire people with the explanation that they do a poor job. They wan
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by westlake (615356)
      Isn't it kind of obvious when someone's personal life is interfering with their professional life?

      Not always, and, more importantly, not always soon enough.

      The point of random drug testing in a facility like Los Almos is to identify the user before he becomes a security risk, before he becomes a danger to himself and others.

    • Have you ever tried to fire someone from a government position? You need a really good reason, and a well documented case for dismissal. Otherwise you'll find yourself being forced by the courts or unions to re-hire them.
    • There is actually a law, the The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 [samhsa.gov] which requires recipients of federal grants to maintain a drug-free workplace. Part of the whole war on drugs nonsense.
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        There is actually a law, the The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 which requires recipients of federal grants to maintain a drug-free workplace. Part of the whole war on drugs nonsense.

        It doesn't require drug testing, however. This according to the Department of Labor site [dol.gov] and the text of the law itself. Basically, it requires employers and employees to sign statements that drug use in the workplace is forbidden and can result in loss of employment.

        -b.

    • by feyhunde (700477)
      Lets take three examples.

      Bob works in the loading docks, he moves cases and has a hazmat certificate. He also likes chronic.

      Ted is a clerk doing accounting and random bureaucracy crap. He's also a closeted homosexual (mostly due to his own ability to acknowledge it and the fact he's really only Bi and has a wife and kids). In order to enjoy himself he takes meth.

      Jon is a PhD working on a project deep in the labs. He also likes to take X when he has sex.

      Each of them is both a work place hazard and a security
  • LANL did not have so [cbsnews.com] many [newsmax.com] security [fas.org] gaffes [wikipedia.org], the management would not feel the need for "demonstrating improved security."

    That said, having taken a polygraph, I think the true value lies in the "good-cop/bad-cop" environment that it creates.

  • by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:33PM (#17425634) Homepage
    Name a spy caught after failing a polygraph test.

    Neither can I. It never happened.

    TFA is completely correct on polygraphs.
    • Wrong again.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by purduephotog (218304) <hirsch@nOSpAm.inorbit.com> on Monday January 01, 2007 @06:12PM (#17426032) Homepage Journal
      Sharon Scranage - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharon_Scranage [wikipedia.org]
      Jim Nicholson - convicted of spying for Russia

      There's two. There's hundreds found... and even many more before they get off the ground- how many people could be compromised had they been given access?
      • by KillerBob (217953)
        Polygraphs are only effective if you believe they're effective. If you believe that they're a load of bunk, they won't catch shit. I have successfully convinced a polygraph that I was Cleopatra in a past life. That possibility notwithstanding, it really isn't hard to fool a polygraph. I work with cops from time to time with my work, and usually they only use a polygraph to decide whether you are worth investigating: if you agree to the polygraph and act like you have nothing to hide, then there's no point i
  • How else can we screen out subversives that believe in that evolution nonsense?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:40PM (#17425702)
    Posting as AC because I have personal experience "cheating" a polygraph test I was compelled to undergo by my employer after reading the lie behind the lie detector [antipolygraph.org].

    Long story short: the polygraph is a pile of pseudo-scientific bullshit, that can be easily beaten by anyone that knows how it works. At its core, its basically just a non-standardized investigation protocol for extracting harmful confessions by deceiving the person being investigated.

    After educating myself, I passed a polygraph easily the first time, without any preparation or practice, while directly lying to my investigator. For the record, what they were asking was none of my employer's business (in my opinion). I was previously warned that the average session takes an hour, and can sometimes run into 3-4 hours when there are "complications". However, by manipulating my physiological responses to a few critical control questions, and pretending to be appropriately intimidated and impressed by the investigator and his machine, I was out of there in 15 minutes, which I was later told was something of a record.

    From http://antipolygraph.org/ [antipolygraph.org]:

    The dirty little secret behind the polygraph is that the "test" depends on trickery, not science. The person being "tested" is not supposed to know that while the polygraph operator declares that all questions must be answered truthfully, warning that the slightest hint of deception will be detected, he secretly assumes that denials in response to certain questions -- called "control" questions -- will be less than truthful. An example of a commonly used control question is, "Did you ever lie to get out of trouble?" The polygrapher steers the examinee into a denial by warning, for example, that anyone who would do so is the same kind of person who would commit the kind of behavior that is under investigation and then lie about it. But secretly, it is assumed that everyone has lied to get out of trouble.

    The polygraph pens don't do a special dance when a person lies. The polygrapher scores the test by comparing physiological responses (breathing, blood pressure, heart, and perspiration rates) to these probable-lie control questions with reactions to relevant questions such as, "Did you ever commit an act of espionage against the United States?" (commonly asked in security screening). If the former reactions are greater, the examinee passes; if the latter are greater, he fails. If responses to both "control" and relevant questions are about the same, the result is deemed inconclusive.

    The test also includes irrelevant questions such as, "Are the lights on in this room?" The polygrapher falsely explains that such questions provide a "baseline for truth," because the true answer is obvious. But in reality, they are not scored at all! They merely serve as buffers between pairs of relevant and "control" questions.

    The simplistic methodology used in polygraph testing has no grounding in the scientific method: it is no more scientific than astrology or tarot cards. Government agencies value it because people who don't realize it's a fraud sometimes make damaging admissions. But as a result of reliance on this voodoo science, the truthful are often falsely branded as liars while the deceptive pass through.

    Perversely, the "test" is inherently biased against the truthful, because the more honestly one answers the "control" questions, and as a consequence feels less stress when answering them, the more likely one is to fail. Conversely, liars can beat the test by covertly augmenting their physiological reactions to the "control" questions. This can be done, for example, by doing mental arithmetic, thinking exciting thoughts, altering one's breathing pattern, or simply biting the side of the tongue. Truthful persons can also use these techniques to protect themselves against the risk of a false positive outcome. Although polygraphers

  • >Holian writes: 'Polygraphy is an insulting affront to
    >scientists, since a committee of the National Academy of
    >Sciences has declared that, beyond being inadmissible in
    >court, there is no scientific basis for polygraphs. In my
    >opinion, by agreeing to be polygraphed, one thereby
    >seriously jeopardizes his or her claim to being a
    >scientist, which is presumably the principal reason for
    >employment for many scientists at Los Alamos.'"

    I sure hope he tells
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      I sure hope he tells them that one down at the unemployment office!

      I doubt that he'll stay unemployed long. There are always employers outside the US willing to pay for services. A pleasant thought for nuclear scientists, no doubt :/

      -b.

  • by Marrow (195242) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:55PM (#17425858)
    Considering the "brainscan" approach to polygraphs that the future may hold. I am kind of interested in
    how a 100% accurate polygraph or lie-detector would affect civilization. How it would affect law enforcement
    and judiciary. How would it affect business agreements and politics. If a really good lie detector were
    readily available, then what would it do to society, government, economies, education, religion...

    Its fun to imagine how the world would reshape itself. Would it be good, or a disaster.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mysqlrocks (783488)

      I am kind of interested in how a 100% accurate polygraph or lie-detector would affect civilization.

      One of the fundamental problems with polygraphs is that there is no such thing as an absolute truth. If one could invent a "100% accurate" polygraph all it would really measure is if the subject believes he or she is telling the truth or not (which is all that current polygraphers claim that it can measure anyways). So, someone that could truly convince themselves that something is true could still fake a pol

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sco08y (615665)
      Its fun to imagine how the world would reshape itself. Would it be good, or a disaster.


      Did you ever watch Babylon 5? (If you didn't: psychics were relatively common and telepathic screening was standard procedure in the corporate world.)
  • Unionize (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jimhill (7277) on Monday January 01, 2007 @05:56PM (#17425868) Homepage

    Quite simply, LANL employees' biggest problem is that we aren't unionized. We stand idly by and watch management (LANS/NNSA/DOE) hammer us again and again and again with policies that decrease the quality of workplace life (without adding jack to the real safety and security of the institution). The "substantially equivalent" requirement for benefits between the last contractor and the current contractor has been revealed to be a stinking pile of bullshit. With a strong collective bargaining agreement, there'd be some pushback against this unrelenting spiral into hell. There is none, however, because nearly everyone in Los Alamos County believes that unions are dues-sucking liberal plots that exist solely to protect the slackers and lackwits. Efforts to unionize have been and will continue to be fruitless. And so, things will get worse.

    To specifically address the current outrage, Director Mike Anastasio's plan to expand random drug testing, one can say that it's true that LANL has had far, far too many security and safety incidents over the past decade. But I can't think of a single one in which the cause was traced back to drug use or alcohol overconsumption. This means we'll be spending money that the contractor doesn't have (they're facing a $150M + shortfall this year) to solve a problem that the lab doesn't have, and raping the Fourth Amendment in the process. (Yes, I know the workplace drug laws have been routinely upheld, but when the courts write that some things are too important for Constitutional protections to apply, what're you to think?) THIS is the kind of visionary thinking that made LANS the winning contractor?

    /Pee in cups for LANL

    //Take polygraphs for LANL

    ///Hates self for it

  • ...you drink the KoolAid.

    Don't like it? Show 'em you mean business and take your talents elsewhere. There are lots of places that need scientific expertise. And just think of all the cool gadgets the old people play with in the country just to the south of your new home.
  • What's interesting to me about this is the amount of degrading and ridiculous crap that valuable experts will go through for a clearance when they throw fits when employers even hint at questioning their credentials. For example, we like to give a pretty good basic technical knowledge test when we hire programmers. Basically, you should be able to read some basic code (nothing tricky) and answer some simple conceptual questions about data structures (e.g. Describe some differences between a linked list an

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