The Jeremy Kyle show is a despicable British television programme that humiliates people from low income backgrounds by exposing their infidelities and other shortcomings in face to face confrontations before a live studio audience. Only those of a particularly twisted mentality watch the show. A judge once described it as the nearest thing the modern age has to “legalised bear baiting”. It has also been described, quite accurately, as a show that “feasts on personal misery”. By putting vulnerable people under considerable strain on national television the programme was always likely to come a cropper. Now it seems to have happened.
It is alleged that one person who appeared on the programme has committed suicide. Questions have been asked in the House of Commons, the TV channel concerned has removed all archives of the programme from the internet and many people are calling for the show to be banned – something that is long overdue.
Steven Dymond, the man who died, had been accused by his partner of adultery. The programme subjected him to a lie detector test which he failed. He still protested his innocence and the battle to prove that the test was wrong appears to have been too much for him. It is such a shame that the poor man never knew the truth about lie detectors that every intelligence officer knows: LIE DETECTORS DO NOT WORK. That is why they are used for TV stunts.
The proper name for such equipment is “polygraph”. It comes in various configurations, but not one of them detects lies. They all measure stress by means of a number of physical factors such as heart or respiration rate. The results of the test depend on the skill of the person using the machine and their ability to interpret the readings. But even the best of these cannot tell if someone is lying.
Tests administered under scientific conditions have repeatedly shown that polygraphs only work in the limited sense that people are less likely to lie if they are told a lie detector is involved. For instance, in one test, prisoners were questioned about recent drug use (verified by blood tests). 40% of them lied when no lie detector was used. This dropped to 14% when they were told that a lie detector was being used. The machine they were exposed to was in fact not working. The difference was caused simply by the fear of the machine.
It has been shown that the most influential factor in any polygraph test is not the reaction of the subject, but the suspicion (or knowledge) of the polygrapher administering the test. In another test, four polygraphers were tested on four different days with four different subjects (each day) to see who had stolen a camera. In each test the polygrapher was told that a particular subject was under suspicion (a different one each time). In fact no camera had been stolen and all subjects were telling the truth. Yet each polygrapher confidently identified the person under suspicion as the guilty party.
Some people may point out that polygraphs are frequently used in the United States. For instance, the CIA uses polygraphs to screen new entrants. But, once again, it is a giant bluff. Interviewees who are given a polygraph are told by the examiner that it is clear that they have told some untruths, but that they will be given a chance to come back and take the test again. In fact, the examiner has no idea if the candidate has lied. Yet astonishingly many candidates return and give a far fuller account of their lives (eg. recreational drug use or political views) than they did the first time.
It is also worth noting that Aldrich Ames, the most prolific CIA traitor of all time, was given a polygraph test every single year while he was working for the KGB – and he passed each one with flying colours. As he said: “There is no special magic. Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner: rapport, where you smile and make him think you like him.”
Another US example is from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. It is now known that many of those who were picked up and incarcerated there were in fact innocent. During their questioning and torture, many of these prisoners begged to be allowed to take polygraph tests to prove that they were innocent. The Guantanamo interrogators refused every single request on the ground that “polygraph tests are unreliable.”
The Jeremy Kyle programme claims that it gives after care to those who have appeared on the show. The trouble is that they cannot tell the victim that the “lie detector” results are bullshit because that would destroy the “evidence” that their show has been based on. So the myth gets perpetuated. So, sadly, it appears a man has died.
Spies do not fear lie detectors. They do not work. It really is as simple as that.