The Big Lie in the Kavanaugh Case


Christine Blasey Ford is the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her some 36 years ago at a party with other high school kids. She claims that Kavanaugh and Mark Judge were in the room with her, locked the door, while Kavanaugh attempted to strip her by forcing off her bathing suit. She relates that they had all been drinking and Kavanaugh was quite drunk when he attacked her. Luckily she escaped the room.

She does not seem to remember the year when this happened or where this party was held. Certainly 36 years is a long time and we know that memories fade as the years go on and that many memories are inaccurate or false.


Did this happen? I have no idea. Did something happen to her but with someone else? I have no idea. Is this a false memory? I have no idea. Was she so high that she really has little memory of this? I have no idea. Is she a liar? I have no idea.

But I do have an idea about one thing regarding this situation. Many news programs and journalists are saying that Ford passed a “lie detector” exam. These statements take for granted that “lie detector” tests (polygraph tests) are accurate measures of truthfulness when that is not totally true. Here is a quick synopsis from the web site

Significance & Practical Application

Polygraph testing has generated considerable scientific and public controversy. Most psychologists and other scientists agree that there is little basis for the validity of polygraph tests. Courts, including the United States Supreme Court (cf. U.S. v. Scheffer, 1998 in which Dr.’s Saxe’s research on polygraph fallibility was cited), have repeatedly rejected the use of polygraph evidence because of its inherent unreliability. Nevertheless, polygraph testing continues to be used in non-judicial settings, often to screen personnel, but sometimes to try to assess the veracity of suspects and witnesses, and to monitor criminal offenders on probation. Polygraph tests are also sometimes used by individuals seeking to convince others of their innocence and, in a narrow range of circumstances, by private agencies and corporations.

The development of currently used “lie detection” technologies has been based on ideas about physiological functioning but has, for the most part, been independent of systematic psychological research. Early theorists believed that deception required effort and, thus, could be assessed by monitoring physiological changes. But such propositions have not been proven and basic research remains limited on the nature of deceptiveness. Efforts to develop actual tests have always outpaced theory-based basic research. Without a better theoretical understanding of the mechanisms by which deception functions, however, development of a lie detection technology seems highly problematic.

For now, although the idea of a lie detector may be comforting, the most practical advice is to remain skeptical about any conclusion wrung from a polygraph.

[See below for cited resources and additional sources.]

So passing a “lie detector test” is a meaningless “accomplishment.” The test doesn’t detect lies. It seems it detects close to nothing.

Now the above web site is just one valid online source. You can go into the actual studies if you want or read Skeptic Magazine and Skeptical Inquirer to understand how rationalists and scientists prove polygraphs are unreliable tests.

So what is wrong here? Politicians are pushing this false narrative about the efficacy of “lie detector” tests. They are – in short – flat-out lying to the public.

And these are the liars we elect to lead our nation and judge the truth of the Kavanaugh/Ford situation.


Cited Research & Additional Sources

Kozel, F.A., Padgett, T.M. & George, M.S. (2004). A Replication Study of the Neural Correlates of Deception. Behavioral Neuroscience, 118(4): 852-56.

Lykken, D. (1998). A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector, 2d ed. New York: Perseus.

National Academy of Sciences (2002). The Polygraph and Lie Detection. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Saxe, L. (1991). Lying: Thoughts of an applied social psychologist. American Psychologist, 46(4): 409-15.

Saxe, L. & Ben-Shakhar, G. (1999). Admissibility of polygraph tests: The application of scientific standards post-Daubert. Psychology, Public Policy and the Law, 5(1): 203-23.