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The Predictive Power of the Polygraph: The Lies Lie Detectors Tell

Benjamin Kleinmuntz, PhD
JAMA. 1987;257(2):189-190. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390020055021.
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To the Editor.—  The American Medical Association's (AMA) Council on Scientific Affairs1 correctly recommended that the polygraph not be used in preemployment testing and security clearance. Its review of the data on the validity and accuracy of the test for this form of screening is in line with findings in criminal investigations.2 These data show that the range of false-positives in a criminal investigation is from 18% to 50%, with the latter upper-range percentages representing a level of performance that is a good deal inferior to random decision making.The point is shown clearly in a recent Lancet article3 on the predictive power of the polygraph. The authors analyzed two criminal case studies2,4 in terms of the specificity and sensitivity performance characteristics of the polygraph— ie, the probability that a person with a positive test result is actually guilty or that one with a negative result


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