Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Regarding the June 21 Washington Post article “Private eye who found Levy one declines lie test”: If most people challenged or disregarded the place of the polygraph test in American police investigations the way that private investigator Joe McCann is reported to have done in the case of murdered federal intern Chandra Levy, they would probably fall under suspicion of holding aberrant political beliefs. In the current climate, they might even be viewed as terrorist threats.
Separate from the matter of the accuracy and reliability of the polygraph at detecting lies is the socially enshrined belief that it does so. It has practically become a kind of litmus test of one’s social propriety. But the polygraph test detects and measures stress - not lies. To persist in calling it a “lie detector test” is just plain stupid. But as a myth of modern society, it contributes to easy litigation and an easy conscience.
Judging by the place the polygraph occupies in police investigations reported in the media and its frequent appearance in entertainment dramatizations of police work, it seems an object example of the faith the common man in the American street places in technology. The polygraph test and electric chair may be as much icons of American culture as the Coca-Cola bottle, Marilyn Monroe, Uncle San and G.I. Joe. But I prefer not to believe in it wholeheartedly and, regardless of his reasons for declining to undergo the test, I admire McCann.
Published on Wednesday, July 3, 2002 as “Challenging an American icon.”
I hate the trust and regard extended to the polygraph - which measures stress, not truth - and I want to prick at this dishonesty. I am surprised that I don’t hear anyone else saying the same as me on this issue. It’s not secret. Unless almost everyone else in fact does believe that a polygraph test detects lies.