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Currently, US Republican representatives are trying to push through Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, despite that fact that he’s awful and everyone hates him. One of the many ways he’s awful is that he’s what experts might term “rapey.” As of this recording, four different women have come forward to point out that he sexually harassed or assaulted them in various instances.
The first of those, of course, was subject to the most press, and therefore, the most harassment from the “Bitches Be Lyin’” crew of rape apologists. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has very bravely come forward to say that when she was 16, Brett Kavanaugh (also a teenager at the time) sexually assaulted her.
She’s obviously not lying about this. Her accusation is backed up by friends, her therapist, and Kavanaugh and his friends’ own pasts with frequent blackout drinking and admitted sexual assaults. She knew that if her allegation became public, she would be subjected to horrific harassment on the part of Trump fans everywhere, which is why she didn’t want to be named and at the center of a media circus. However, once that became inevitable, she bravely stepped up and made herself the target, because it’s important to her that an actual attempted rapist doesn’t get a lifetime appointment where he decides the fate of American women.
But there’s one aspect of Ford’s allegations that I take issue with, and it’s something I see liberals announcing quite proudly: she took a lie detector test in order to prove she was telling the truth. She passed, so she can’t be lying, right?
Wrong. A polygraph isn’t actually a lie detector. This is something that scientists have formed a consensus on, because there is no universal way that humans react when they’re lying. A polygraph measure your physiological reaction — your skin conductivity, your heart rate, your blood pressure, and your breathing patterns. Some people might get more nervous when they’re telling the truth, while others might display the exact same symptoms when lying.
Because of this, the Supreme Court has already ruled that polygraph results are inadmissable as evidence.
That’s not to say a polygraph is useless — it can be used as an interrogation tool. If someone truly believes that the polygraph can detect their lies, they might be more likely to confess the truth on their own, for instance.
As a science communicator who likes to let people know what’s real and what isn’t, it puts me in a bit of a weird position. A polygraph can’t reliably detect lies, and everyone should know that, but if everyone knows that then it’ll never actually be useful. On the other hand, I mostly dislike law enforcement and am fine taking away one of their tools. So yeah, lie detectors aren’t real, everybody.
With that in mind, let’s stop holding up Dr. Ford’s polygraph results as proof that she’s telling the truth. When we do that, we reinforce the lie that it’s real evidence, and we give the Republicans an easy way to dismiss what she’s saying. Once they realize lie detectors aren’t real, they will just say that the polygraph is pointless and we should all just ignore Dr. Ford’s actual allegation.