Response to the National Academy of Sciences Report


The 2003 report of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the polygraph and other credibility assessment methods is certainly the most extensive evaluation of these technologies, and the most authoritative report on the scientific issues to date.  The American Polygraph Association (APA) appreciates the magnitude and significance of the Committee's undertaking.  The report provides a benchmark for where the field of credibility assessment is, particularly the polygraph, and since 2003 the Association has moved quickly to align its objectives with the NAS's recommendations as they pertain to the practitioner community.   

The NAS's characterization of polygraphy as a subfield of forensic science corresponds with how the profession views itself, and as fellow colleagues in this larger community APA members recognize the importance of a solid scientific support for their practices.  The subsequent NAS report of 2009 on the forensic sciences has further confirmed the need for polygraphy and its sister disciplines to transition from their historical experienced-based techniques to those that can be supported by evidence meeting current standards of scientific rigor.

The APA agrees with the NAS conclusion that the existing evidence supports the validity of the polygraph under certain conditions.  That the range of accuracy may depend on factors including examiner competency, modern instrumentation, examinee cooperation, and the use of standardized testing and analysis protocols.  The APA also agrees that much more research is necessary to determine which factors improve and mitigate that accuracy.  The NAS conclusions reinforce the need to pursue an aggressive research agenda in this field, and that polygraph examiners should adhere to best practice models that follow the scientific evidence as it emerges.   Though there are unanswered questions, even a cursory review of the published evidence will show that the research gap for polygraphy is smaller than for other approaches to credibility assessment.  Indeed, in some cases such as voice-based devices, the evidence compelling argues against validity, as the NAS has concluded.  

Since 2003 the APA has used the NAS report as a guide to develop its standards, best practice models, and strategic plans.  For example, APA standards mandate its members use valid and standardized testing and analysis protocols.  It requires its members obtain the proper educational foundation prior to entering the field.  The Association establishes and enforces standards for affiliated polygraph schools.  There are also standards for instrumentation, treatment of examinees, confidentiality of reporting, and the APA has created several Model Policies that represent best practices. These initiatives compare favorably with those of many other subfields in the forensic sciences, and have significantly improved the quality of polygraph services.  

Finally, the NAS and APA agree that "[S]ome potential alternatives to the polygraph show promise, but none has yet been shown to outperform the polygraph.  None shows any promise of supplanting the polygraph for screening purposes in the near term."  This NAS position, combined with APA professional standards of practice, reassures agencies and the general public that APA members will continue to deliver the best credibility assessment services available anywhere.