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FBI File of Lie Detector's Creator 181

Posted by kdawson
from the lasso-of-truth dept.
George Maschke writes, "It appears that the FBI considered William Moulton Marston (1893-1947), who invented the lie detector and created the comic book character Wonder Woman under the pseudonym Charles Moulton, to be a 'phony' and a 'crackpot.' He is alleged to have misrepresented the result of a study he conducted for the Gillette razor company in 1938, for which he reportedly received some $30,000, a handsome sum in those days. Despite these misgivings, the FBI today uses Marston's creation (the polygraph, not the Lasso of Truth) to guide investigations as well as to screen applicants and employees. You can download Marston's FBI file here (736 KB PDF)."
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FBI File of Lie Detector's Creator

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  • Reciprocate (Score:4, Funny)

    by psykocrime (61037) <(ku.oc.rekcahppc) (ta) (emircdnim)> on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:28AM (#16669097) Homepage Journal
    That's ok with me, as I happen to consider the FBI to be a bunch of phonies and crackpots themselves.
    • by mqduck (232646)
      Phony super legal, counter subversive police force? I'd say they're pretty good at it.
    • Crackpot Science (Score:3, Insightful)

      by frost22 (115958)
      you are probably more right than you meant to.

      The lie detector is crackpot science. Apparently the idea of forcing people to tell the truth rings some arch-american instinct, so the attempts to abolish it on scientific grounds have been unsuccsessful so far (as with other highly questionable practices, like the death penalty, or the unlimited "adult" criminal responsibility of children, that also appeal to brutish instincts of the american populace).

      Virtually nobody outside of the US uses it any more.
      • Virtually nobody outside of the US uses it any more.

        Virtually nobody outside the us ever did use it. Unfortunately though, its use outside the USA is slowly increasing, presumably due to lobbying from the USA and especially the American Polygraph Association.

        Any technique that requires the examiner to lie him/herself as part of the procedure (as a polygraph test does, if the subject asks any nasty quesions), is rather suspect IMO. That it has no defensible scientific basis makes its use quite bizarre

      • by Catbeller (118204)
        Weird facts for you:

        Polygraphs have been questionable in American courts since Mr. S&M created the toy. Wishful thinking has carried the day, especially in corporations.

        L. Ron Hubbard used a modified verson of the gadget as his E-meter. He instituted a lie-detector during hours-long interviews as a religious ceremony, used on every member of that organization to this day.

        The inventor of the polygraph was an S&M afficiando his entire life. Lived with two women in a hush-hush arrangement. And it spill
        • I wonder if the fMRI can also be beat by telling exactly the truth *as you know it* regardless of what really happened (in other words, by believing your own lies with all of your heart).
          • by Catbeller (118204)
            Exactly. Risking flames, Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld could beat any lie detector thrown at them. They believe with all their heart, and nothing can penetrate that rocky certitude.

            Being wrong and lying... sociopaths don't believe they are lying, as others pointed out in this forum.
        • Bear in mind that no one really knows what the hell they are measuring with the thing.

          As I understand it, it displays activity in specific regions of the brain. So while somebody is answering a question, you can watch for changes in activity. The most useful areas to watch would be the creative areas of the brain; someone answering questions purely from recall will be working a different region of brain than somebody building and maintaining a fictional story.

          This is slightly more difficult to defeat th
  • A way out? (Score:3, Funny)

    by BalorTFL (766196) on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:28AM (#16669099)
    Is there any chance that this could be used in court cases to challenge polygraph test results? After all, if the FBI believes that the machine's inventer was a lunatic, couldn't it be argued that perhaps his so-called "lie detector" is inaccurate and inadmissable as evidence?
    • Re:A way out? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CoverStory (1020095) on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:43AM (#16669187)
      As shown recently on MythBusters, Cleve Backster [backster.net] the man that originated the comparison test used by most law enforcement agencies to determine the results of a polygraph test spent most of his career using those tests on plants.

      From any interview [derrickjensen.org] given in 1997
      ... the imagery entered my mind of burning the leaf I was testing. I didn't verbalize, I didn't touch the plant, I didn't touch the equipment. The only new thing that could have been a stimulus for the plant was the mental image. Yet the plant went wild. The pen jumped right off the top of the chart.

      If that won't convince someone about the accuracy of the test, I don't think TFA will.
      • by kalirion (728907)
        Hey, I haven't seen any studies arguing against the telepathic powers of plants! Why, oh why, are we so quick to dismiss something that seems rediculous without any evidence to it being false?
        • by metamatic (202216)
          Hey, I haven't seen any evidence against the idea that your head is literally filled with custard.
          • by kalirion (728907)
            However, there are also no studies suggesting that my head is filled with custard. With plants, there have been studies, even the aforementioned MythBusters episode, where the plant appeared to react to thoughts. So does the scientific method involve ignoring evidence based purely on the preconception that "this is rediculous"? How many people thought the same thing about the Earth being round and orbitting the sun?
        • Indeed. The mythbusters episode in question saw several positive results, and threw those out. They eventually proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that plant telepathy cannot penetrate large metal shipping containers often used on the show as blast chambers.
    • Re:A way out? (Score:5, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:44AM (#16669195) Homepage Journal
      Is there any chance that this could be used in court cases to challenge polygraph test results?

      Polygraphs are already inadmissable as court evidence, and can no longer be used to screen employees. Pretty much the only area you'll run into them is in federal jobs requiring security clearance. Investigators also use them on occasion to determine if the suspect is misleading them during an investigation, but the results can't be held against the subject of the test.

      The truth is that the polygraph is a form of psychological testing. The results are meaningless unless the "operator" is a well trained psychologist. Even then, he may be unable to extract the "truth" from you; partly because "truth" is a subjective matter. In addition, some people don't do well (or do TOO well) under stress testing. So the results can be bogus in those cases. Basically, polygraphs are unreliable at best, and should never be counted on for accurate information.
      • Re:A way out? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Dun Malg (230075) on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:59AM (#16669307) Homepage
        The truth is that the polygraph is a form of psychological testing. The results are meaningless unless the "operator" is a well trained psychologist. Even then, he may be unable to extract the "truth" from you; partly because "truth" is a subjective matter. In addition, some people don't do well (or do TOO well) under stress testing. So the results can be bogus in those cases. Basically, polygraphs are unreliable at best, and should never be counted on for accurate information.
        Indeed, the best description I've heard of a polygraph test is that it's a little theatrical play designed to trick the gullible into confessing and/or acting guilty.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DrVomact (726065)

          The truth is that the polygraph is a form of psychological testing. The results are meaningless unless the "operator" is a well trained psychologist.

          Actually, the operator has to be a well-trained interrogator. Lie detectors have nothing to do with science. There has never been a credible peer-reviewed study that shows "polygraphs" really work--that is, that they can distinguish truth from lies. As far as I know, no other civilized country uses "polygraphs". The "polygraph" is an instrument of intimidation

      • by 3waygeek (58990)
        In addition, some people don't do well (or do TOO well) under stress testing
         
        Stress? I took a polygraph as part of the interview process for a three-letter government agency back in the late 80s. They put you in a very comfortable recliner & let you put your feet up -- the biggest problem I had during the test was staying awake.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by fbjon (692006)
          I took a polygraph as part of the interview process
          Did you sell it on eBay?
    • "Is there any chance that this could be used in court cases to challenge polygraph test results?"

      Hmmmmm, being that the linked article is to www.antipolygraph.org [antipolygraph.org], there might, just maybe, be a chance that they're all over that very possibility... :-)

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Isn't it completely inadmissable in courts outside of the USA? I would be surprised and disgusted if it was admissable in courts within the USA.
  • That's pretty interesting that the basic blood pressure based lie detector that William Marston created formed the basis behind the Wonder Woman comics (e.g. he "proved" in his tests that women are more honest than men).

    Strange that the FBI now relies so heavily on polygraph's when their initial assessment of the device was so negative, and most current research shows them to be relatively inaccurate [antipolygraph.org].
  • Now with lie detection !!!
  • by fortinbras47 (457756) on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:46AM (#16669211)
    Is this really your rights online?

    Is the FBI going to jump out of my cable modem and polygraph me?

    • It's about rights (sort of). You are reading it. You are online.

      Someone always brings up this observation in every discussion under "your rights online". If you want another category, suggest it to Taco.

    • by Kohath (38547)
      Yes. Wonder Woman.
  • Bondage (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:47AM (#16669217) Homepage Journal
    He wasn't so interested in lie detection, he just liked tying people up. A lie detector that didn't require strapping things on people wouldn't interest him. Look at what happened to so many women in the WW comics.
  • by Animats (122034)

    That's not an investigative file. That's just his correspondence with Hoover's office. There's not even anything from Hoover himself in there. Nor anything from Tolson. It's staff people in Hoover's office. Helen Gandy was Hoover's secretary.

  • by dircha (893383) on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @12:49AM (#16669239)
    According to the studies linked from the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygraph) it seems that while the test has a high false positive rate, the false negative rate is lower than one would expect of random chance. Does anyone read it otherwise?

    While I think it would be abhorrent to allow such a device to be used against a defendant in our criminal justice system, it the above is true it doesn't seem to me so unreasonable at all that it be used in the hiring of FBI and CIA agents and the like.

    A better chance of keeping Russian and Chinese spies out of our security forces may very well outweigh turning away candidates incorrectly classified as deceitful.

    Whereas in matters of criminal justice most seem to agree it is better that 10 guilty men should go free than that 1 innocent man should be condemned.

    Also, I've always wondered whether this isn't really more of a "nervousness test" than anything else.
    • by Dun Malg (230075) on Wednesday November 01, 2006 @01:18AM (#16669427) Homepage
      According to the studies linked...it seems that while the test has a high false positive rate, the false negative rate is lower than one would expect of random chance. ...if the above is true it doesn't seem to me so unreasonable at all that it be used in the hiring of FBI and CIA agents and the like.
      As clearly demonstrated by the above mentioned stats, the problem is that polygraphs achieve their low false negative by basically lowering the thresholds, casting a wider net of "guilt" and snaring more innocent people. I can guarantee a 0% false negative rate-- so long as you let me declare everyone who walks in the door "deceptive". Polygraph is just theater. It's pretty much bog-standard interrogation techniques dressed up with a few electronic props to trick people into essentially admitting guilt.
      • There's nothing wrong with an interviewer watching you carefully to try and determine if you are telling the truth. This is the same kind of thing taken to another step. Remember with security clearance they are trying to make a value judgement. They are trying to determine if you are the kind of person that can be flipped to give away secret information. A lot of that just comes down to knowing if you have anything you want to hide. They don't care if you are gay, for example, they care if you are secretly
        • by j-beda (85386)
          There's nothing wrong with an interviewer watching you carefully to try and determine if you are telling the truth. This is the same kind of thing taken to another step.

          Except there is little to no evidence that the polygraph actually adds anything of value to the system other than inaccuracy. Beating the polygraph is reportedly not difficult, and once beaten the fact that the polygraph test indicated trustworthiness, there is a tendency to relax other forms of vigilence. If we want to use a tool for som

        • "There's nothing wrong with an interviewer watching you carefully to try and determine if you are telling the truth."

          The polygraph is just like a magician's prop, it's really the interviewer who is guessing (or just making up) the results. Often times he also has an agenda which is why suspects are more likely to "fail" when the police perform the test than when it's paid for by the suspect.

          The danger is that people can be fooled into thinking that the polygraph is actually determining the results. If some
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Catbeller (118204)
            For that matter, why are we relying on the interrogator's lie detection abilities? What's his error rate? Where's the data?
            • I guess because "lie detection" no matter who or what "performs" it, is easier than finding real evidence of guilt or innocence. That's why there are so many innocent people in jail.
      • by gad_zuki! (70830)
        Yep, its theater. As long as people believe the machine they are tied to can magically read their minds they will act accordingly. This puts stress on the subject. Standard interrogation techniques plus the polygraph leads to some surprisngly good results, if not very ethical all around. Supposedly, all lawyers advise to never take a polygraph because youre pretty much handing yourself over to a very stressful situation where you have little to no control and believe those in change know every little thing
    • Without a true scientific study the false postive rate and the false negative rate measured are meaningless anyway.

      A valid study would require at a minimum that the examiner and the interpreter of the polygraphic measurement be seperate and blind to each other with neither knowing the truthfulness of each statement made by the subject. A third blind party would score the results by comparing the known truth to the interpreters determination.

      That's probably not sufficient, but it would be a start.

      I doubt tha
    • by Salvance (1014001) *
      There's certainly a case for performing the test for hiring security related positions. Considering that the CIA (not sure about the FBI) uses the polygraph simply as one of their many 'weed out' tools, the test is certainly not going to contribute to hiring deceitful spies (although it likely turns away potentially good ones).

      The illegitimacy of the test is most apparent in the private sector, where companies used it decades ago (up until 1988 when congress basically banned it) as part of the standard
    • A better chance of keeping Russian and Chinese spies out of our security forces may very well outweigh turning away candidates incorrectly classified as deceitful.

      The problem is that any professional spies are going to be good at lying. Perhaps if you know that the FBI uses this device as a standard employment screen, you might study and practice the simple techniques needed to decieve the device operator.

      Of course, and honest and patriotic minded indivdual wouldn't think to trying to 'beat' the machi
    • If high false positives don't matter, use a two headed coin (heads means you're a liar). My test would have a false negative rate of zero.

  • The polygraph is useless. It's not a "lie detector". At best, it's a "nervousness" detector. It's utterly useless against anyone who can lie without exhibiting any physiological symptoms - sociopaths, for instance.

    • At best, it's a "nervousness" detector.

      True. I think a little valium taken beforehand would render it completely useless...
    • ...there's a lot of interest in work being done to use fMRI for lie detection. There are specific areas of the brain that light up when you lie, even if you aren't conciously aware that it is a lie, from what I understand. However, nobody has the foggiest what the accuracy level is (it's too new of an approach), fMRI is vastly more expensive than a polygraph system, only those who did the one study are even remotely qualified to conduct such a test, the psychological aspect is completely unknown (as opposed
      • "There are specific areas of the brain that light up when you lie..."

        I am sure there are, but it has also been shown an individual can train his own "mood lights".

        ...even if you aren't conciously aware that it is a lie, from what I understand."

        You only need to understand the nature of a lie, by definition a lie is delibrate. If you are not consiously aware of it then it cannot possibly be considered a lie. You may be repeating a lie but you sure as hell are not lying - well maybe to yourself, but t
        • by jd (1658)
          Heh! No offence taken. You added to what I know - well, I knew the scientific method already, but I did not know that people could train their brain's activity levels to the point of decieving fMRI. Yes, I knew people could train themselves to set up certain brainwaves via EEG, but fMRI is a different ballgame - and not many have one in their homes to do personal training with. :)

          Ultimately, your post was exactly what I would call the perfect response - calling me on those things that were either not right

          • Ok, I confess, I also type before thinking and if I haven't changed my mind for a week it simply means I learnt nothing last week. The "mood light" thing I got from a TV doco a while back, monks in Sydney were meditating while inside an MRI machine, they were able to fake emotions such as joy, anger, fear. Thing is, a lie is cognative so maybe it is immune to "faked" states of mind. It think it would be interesting to see what people could do if given "real time" feedback on thier mental states from an fMRI
      • There are specific areas of the brain that light up when you lie, even if you aren't conciously aware that it is a lie, from what I understand.

        I don't think it's a lie if you're not conciously aware of it. But assuming what's above is meant to be "an untruth" or something like that, could this revolutionise science and the pursuit of knowledge?

        No longer would we have to do complicated experiments. Just determine a hypothesis, and then ask someone questions based upon predictions made by that hypothesi

  • There's no way Wonder Woman's breasts could be that perky. It defies physics! And who but a crackpot would create an invisible aircraft that left the pilot perfectly visible?
  • Because no one who invented anything, let alone a tool that the FBI uses, could ever be dishonest. Not even one time.

    I wonder if the FBI uses ReiserFS on any of their computers?
  • The FBI file actually says that the deal fell through, and that he stood to make 30k if he could make the study appear favorable to Gilette. Apparently he couldn't do this because he couldn't get the guy who was helping him with the study to help with the lie. Since it turned out that the study showed half preferred the gilette blade and half the generic. This doesn't prove that the lie detector doesn't work, but it might prove that gilette blades of that time period were no better than generic blades. S
  • "It appears that the FBI considered William Moulton Marston (1893-1947), who invented the lie detector and created the comic book character Wonder Woman under the pseudonym Charles Moulton, to be a 'phony' and a 'crackpot."

    Am I the only one who got a mental image of Marston excitedly waving around a piece of yellow rope, trying to convince the FBI agents that it was the Lasso of Truth?
  • The polygraph doesn't pass any scientific validity tests. It is an interrogation device, that's all. See The Lie Behind the Lie Detector [antipolygraph.org].
  • The unspoken implication being that anyone who is considered a crackpot, liar, or cheat by a government's law enforcement could not be a legitimate inventor? Or that their inventions are faulty? The device should be judged on its own merits.
    • by jcr (53032)
      The device should be judged on its own merits.

      It has been, and it's crap.

      -jcr

  • Just as bad as (Score:2, Insightful)

    by plopez (54068)
    workplace drug testing. Most drugs are either not detectable unless you did them a few hours before hand (or in the case of LSD, less than an hour) and the deadliest in sheer body count, alchohol, usually isn't tested for at all.

    Worthless. The only function it seems to serve is to remind people who are the serfs and who are the masters.
  • Lie detectors are not a device that detects lies of the interrogated, its a device that enables the interrogator to lie. He tells you that he can detect when you are lying, and maybe you believe him so say thing you might normally censure. However he can also interpret your responses to meet his own agenda. If he has no legal basis to fire you, not hire you, or discredit you, he can use a lie detector as a way to implicate that you are a liar. Since the results of a polygraph are tantamount to biorhyth
  • In the 20th and 21st Centuries we should know better than to use lie detectors and pychos I mean psychics.
  • Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ, when are people going to quit using that stupid, wishful-thinking name for that pile of voodoo?

    When lazy bureacrats in law enforcement convince themselves that they can just use a machine to save them the trouble of real detective work, we get results like Aldrich Ames getting nearly every CIA agent in Russia killed. We see cold-blooded killers able to convince the cops that they're clean, and any number of innocent people having their lives ruined because "the machine said so"
    • by Peyna (14792)
      A polygraph is more often used as a scare tactic on the part of police. Many times they might hook someone up to a polygraph and ask them questions and then tell the person they know they are lying to see if the person will admit to the crime.

      I've heard it's pretty effective.
  • the FBI today uses Marston's creation (the polygraph, not the Lasso of Truth)

    Well, then the FBI was stupid; they should have bought the Lasso of Truth from Marston.
  • For the past few years, even fingerprints (the real ones on the end of our fingertips) have been analyzed to be much less reliable [justicedenied.org] than the absolute standard they are often assumed.

    The FBI is in the business of convincing judges, not necessarily rigorous scientific proof. Science and facts are props used in the "justice theater" that is the law, quite different from actual justice.
  • http://www.intesiresources.com/cd_29.aspx [intesiresources.com]

    Living with 2 chics, drawing comics, creates Wonderwoman, Lie Detector, some SelfHelp Theory.

    Seems like a geek god of some sort.

  • He created one of the hottest pieces of superheroine ass in history. What else is needed? Props are due, dogs.
  • the FBI today uses Marston's creation (the polygraph, not the Lasso of Truth) to guide investigations as well as to screen applicants and employees.

    I'd venture to say that a good number of FBI suspects would tell the truth more with a busty woman in an american flag bikini and tiara tying them up with cliched requests for information than when hooked to a lie detector.

    IronChefMorimoto

  • (insert overused trollish and yet in this case applicable off-topic wiki link here)

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