What If We Put Lie Detectors On Politicians During Debates?

from the it-wouldn't-work dept

It’s political silly season these days as we get closer and closer to election day, and with the various campaigns ratcheting up their attempts to win over voters, the inevitable campaign spin reaches the point where the connection between the message being pushed out and the truth often seems increasingly hazy. That is, politicians start lying about each other. Or, if you want to be generous, being extremely misleading in their characterizations. Some worse than others. This, in part, has resulted in the rise in popularity of various “fact checking” sites over the past few campaign seasons, as many people are fed up with campaigns lying and not being called on it.

Some challengers to an Indiana congressman have come up with an amusing suggestion for how to deal with this, with two challengers to the incumbent agreeing to wear lie detectors during a planned debate. The incumbent has refused, with his party chair calling it ridiculous.

Of course, it’s all really a stunt to get some press coverage for the challengers. As polygraph experts well know, a polygraph in a debate setting would be useless. Beyond not always being perfectly reliable, polygraphs are designed to work under very specific circumstances, not in a public debate setting, where the results would be entirely meaningless.

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Comments on “What If We Put Lie Detectors On Politicians During Debates?”

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Steve R. (profile) says:

Don't Lie - Parse the Truth

The really good politicians do not lie, they simply use “fact” in a highly selectively manner to uphold whatever they claim.

I have been somewhat surprised that the media has not picked up on this with statements made by Obama at the last debate.

Obama has been saying that we need to pull of Iraq. Surprisingly he came out, at the last debate, to say that we need greater involvement in Afghanistan. Considering his position on Iraq, his Afghan statement appears to be out of place. I suspect that he is attempting to appear tough militarily while at the same time trying not to appear inconsistent with his prior statements.

After the election, if he is elected, I would assume that a new study will magically conclude that we should not be involved in Afghanistan and Obama will “revise” his approach based on this “new” information.

James says:

Better idea - LIVE fact checking

Actually a colleague and I had an idea that addresses this issue (sort of). Run the debates DELAYED (30 minutes?), and do the fact checking on their statements as they give them.. matching results could show in a green color, and misstatements in a red color (or some derivative).

It might mean not watching the debates exactly real-time but they would be much more entertaining. I think a lie-detector due to the nature of how it works is a bad idea.

Brooks (profile) says:

Where did all of the reasoning go?

Whoa, everyone. There’s lots of fallacious reasoning in this post. Yes, polygraphs detect stress, and results from a debate are likely to be less reliable than results from a controlled environment. But what people are missing here is that polygraphs detect *changes* in stress, not one’s flat-out stress level.

Consider the possibility that will all three candidates register as “super stressed” the entire time, one or more of them have spikes in stress level when putting forward particularly dubious arguments. Would you still argue that the data was meaningless, that it was just a coincidence, and that they believed what they were saying at that moment as much as they believed their other, more baseline-level responses?

I’m not suggesting this is a good idea, or that the results would be meaningful. I am saying that jumping to the conclusion that the data would be meaningless may be premature. Is it not possible that aggregate data across an entire debate could give meaningful results through the inevitable statistical noise? It’s not a great idea, but if we’re going to dismiss it, let’s at least think it through first. It would be a *different* application of polygraph, and *traditional* analysis would likely be less useful… but does that mean it can’t possibly be done right? I’m not convinced.

And Steve R., plenty of us see Iraq and Afghanistan as separate issues and hold different positions on them. I for one would like to believe that Obama’s one of us folks who evaluates each conflict based on its necessity and likely outcome rather than just whether or not military action is “good” in some abstract sense. It’s possible you’re right, of course, but even if he *is* lying here, there are many Americans who support the escalation of a war that we see as critical and strategic even while we advocate withdrawal from a war that we see as misguided, unethical, and counterproductive. Rational analysis often leads to different decisions in different contexts, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

TX CHL Instructor (profile) says:

Re: I'm sure this is obvious, but...

Factcheck.org… brought to you by the folks at Annenburg… Now, just where have I heard that name before?

I would trust their “fact check” on anything having to do with Obama about as far as I can toss my car.

I don’t believe there is ANY unbiased information source in this campaign. None, nada, zip. The rhetoric is just too heated for that. I follow several Liberal (capital L), Conservative (capital C) and Libertarian (capital L) blogs, and they ALL have significant difficulty sorting out the facts. Without exception.

http://www.chl-tx.com Without the 2nd Amendment, the rest of the document is just wishful thinking.

Charming Charlie says:

Long gone are the days that any politicians and journalists expounding on politicians have had any sort of integrity.

Ah, the halcyon days when the press kept FDR’s disability a secret from the people, or overlooked Kennedy’s infedelity, or parroted LBJ’s administration’s Vietnam optimism.

The reality is that for centuries the press erred on the side of cooperation with politicians over burning bridges to print the truth. Today’s news is more in-depth and critical than ever, because journalism students of today no longer feel a risk in printing something unfavorable to a politician, or a patriotic duty to ensure consensus. Today, to be popular you need to have the appearance of being critical, otherwise you’ll be ignored. This was NOT the case in your imaginary past.

You may feel journalists have a long way to go as sifters of bullshit, but that does not automagically correlate with them doing a better job in the past. As fact-checking critics of politicians journalists have generally been worse because media access was more limited, and thus patronship imperative in securing access.

TruthInAdvertising says:

Judgement Night

If you want truth from a politician you are going to have to put them under oath, Oh wait, Bill Clinton already proved that statement wrong.

But seriously folks, it wouldnt matter if they were fitted with lie detectors. These people are professional liars, not your garden variety fibbers. These people have made entire careers out of misleading the public, avoiding issues, and misrepresenting facts. Some of them have been doing this for so long they are starting to believe their own lies.

The only people worthy of elected office are those that refuse to run. Simply wanting the power is enough to corrupt even the best-intentioned candidate.

Liquid says:

Re: .

Seriously… How in the heck would someone vote on a candidate with out knowing anything other then voting records? How will a candidate get a voting record if they are no longer able to talk or debate?

That would be like stating that people should wrestle or play a game of russian ruelet in order to get into office. I honestly see the world moving to the likes in Idocracy but I dont want it to be while I’m still alive.

No one would be able to campaign for a seat any where… or are you stating that people can go out and campaign for local legislature, senecate, etc… but when it comes to the presidency no one is able to campaign or debate?

ThinkCube (user link) says:

The Truth?

Truth in politics is an interesting subject. Dictionary.com describes politics in many ways including using the words artform, maneuvers, opinions and principles. Considered to be the use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control. The very idea of politics is the science of influencing others to believe what you believe or support your beliefs. Truth by definition doesn’t enter this equation. We as a people simply would like to believe or desire that those we elect to govern us would be a truthfull person or at least truthfull to us. Truth is a desire of the people not the candidate when looking at it in election terms. Lying or bending the truth as a method to sway the votes is simply a calculated gamble by the politician. If they are found out they may do themselves more harm than good.

For sake of arguement though lets say that there was a way to do some kind of lie detection in a debate. Some way that it could be a paraphrased answer rather than just yes or no and measured accordingly. What would you learn? It is said that a lie detector can be beat if the person truly believes what they are saying. I firmly believe that in any given election a candidate firmly believes at that time that they intend to do what they say even though their actions may have telegraphed something different in the past. I also believe that many politicians simply understand the system of give and take. They may have voted one way which was against their public persona but down the road they are then able to pass legislation on something else that maybe more important. On the surface the system seems messy and dishonest but when you dig deep it’s much larger system of give and take and some good politicians understand that in order for themselves to get into position to do the good things they intend they have to vote a few times for the other side along the way to get there.

This is a great time in history where the voting public has at their fingertips the use of the internet as a resource. Of course be careful of the resources and make sure they are bipartisan but get informed. I would have hated voting during the great depression with little to no information except the occasional speech on the campaign trail. You can watch the speeches, commercials and debates all you would like but I urge every AMERICAN to do the research for themselves and vote. I don’t care who you vote for as long as you are an informed voter. Don’t damage the country by voting party lines while never doing the research on where your candidate actually stands. That goes double for the midwest swing states! Be informed about your vote and feel content that you did all that you could for America in this election.

This may change how you feel about what I said but I grew up Republican and quickly realized that gun control, abortion and stem cells have nothing to do with running a government. I’m registered Independent because I don’t want either party gaining the use of my statistics for any kind of arguement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“You want a debate? Get rid of the moderator! Give each candidate a clock with 30 minutes on it, tied to their microphone. When one person’s clock and mic are on, the other is not. Let the two debate whatever they want, for as long as they want, until their time runs out.

This wouldnt help, actually losing the moderator would only hurt the debate. In your situation the candidates would simply repeat the same 30 minutes of talking points and slogans over and over, which admittedly is pretty much what they do now.

staples says:

Why not real time fact checking

Ok – so maybe polygraphs are a bit absurd BUT..why can’t the candidates stand in front of a large movie screen that displays the accuracy of their statements within seconds of their point. Anywhere I bet you could find a team of librarians, newsies and bloggers that could quickly validate or shoot down the claims. If it’s a tricker point..display ‘research in progress’ and display the final findings a the end. Drives me crazy the news channels are fact checking after..do it DURING and SHARE DURING the debate. My two bits…

TD Reader says:

Here’s an interesting thought:

What would happen if, at election time, nobody voted? At all.

As broken as the system is, it still depends on the facade of democracy in order to function, the core of that democracy being our vote. If we rescind that power from them, the entire system would screech to a halt, and an investigation into why would be almost inevitable, thus exposing the brokenness of the system for all to see.

Or we could always just rig the lie detectors with electrodes, so that everytime a politician says something that isn’t completely (and factually) true, they’d get a shock. Just a thought. 😉

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