Polygraphs: Good or Not?

By Israel, Benjamin | St. Louis Journalism Review, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Polygraphs: Good or Not?


Israel, Benjamin, St. Louis Journalism Review


On Oct. 1, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a front-page article about Washington University neurologist Dr. Marcus E. Raichle. Raichle served on a National Academy of Sciences committee that studied polygraphs, known in popular culture as lie detectors. The story said the panel found the science behind polygraphs dubious and noted that a polygraph test is not admissible in court as evidence.

"The people administering it believe it, and so do the crooks, but the evidence just doesn't support it." Raichle told reporter Tina Hesman Saey. Raichle's opinion is the dominant one among psychologists and neuroscientists.

Still, in the next two months, Post stories about suspicious death investigations cited the failure of law enforcement officers to administer polygraph tests, apparently as evidence of sloppy police work.

The Post ran a front-page story on Nov. 25 headlined, "Case Closed--Then Reopened," about the possible wrongful conviction in 1992 of Joshua Kezer for a southeast Missouri murder. In summarizing the shortcomings of the police response to the crime, reporter Benjamin Poston wrote: "Investigators had not conducted a polygraph test, taken a blood sample, thoroughly questioned Kezer or checked his alibis, according to police records."

Three weeks later, the Post ran a story headlined, "Was It Suicide? …

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