The lie generator: Inside the black mirror world of polygraph job screenings
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- Mark Harris, Jessica Powell, Molly McKew, Matt Simon, David Karpf, Steven Levy, Jane C. Hu
- Word count
- 4767 words
I was hoping this would come up. Nothing in the article is wrong; polygraphs are inaccurate and culturally problematic. But the above is the entire reason they're used. Most everyone in an industry that mandates polygraphs know this; we all, already know that it's an interrogation prop and not much else. Often the examiner won't be looking at the results during a test, they'll be watching the test subject very closely. As you answer questions, the examiner will probe deeper on specific questions to try to get you to admit to something. Drug use is a big one. A lot of people try cannabis at some point during their school-years. If you are applying to a government industry, prior illegal drug use could be a disqualifier. If they can get you to admit to it, you're gone from the applicant pool. If you don't (whether you've engaged in it or not), it shows that you're a put-together enough person to play the game.
The article mentions racial bias, and they're not wrong. That's a people problem, and without polygraphs I'd bet the hiring managers would be finding ways to disqualify PoC another way. The prop of the polygraph, when used by an ethical examiner at least, is used to weed out people who disqualify themselves and to find people who are either squeaky-clean or playing the game by their rules. Nobody in the relevant industries actually think the machine is worth a damn, or that it detects deception or anything like that. It's a filter, and nothing else.
I get polygraphed in my career, AMA.