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.

Filed Under: debates, lie detectors, politicians


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  1. identicon
    Brooks, 13 Oct 2008 @ 9:08am

    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.

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