Professor writes about the history of polygraphs

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History professor John Baesler recently composed his first book, “Clearer Than Truth: The Polygraph and the American Cold War.”

Baesler’s new book focuses on how the American government and its military used lie detectors throughout history.
“The book highlights how controversial the lie detector has been and why so many people objected to it,” Baesler said. “People saw it as a totalitarian method that did not square with the American culture of fair play and privacy.”

The book opens with an introduction to the lie detector and the science of the instrument.

“I begin by addressing some of the methodological assumptions behind the technology,” Baesler said. “Namely, that the human body produces an identifiable physiological response when a person consciously engages in deception and the problems that come with the idea of the lie detector.”

The book then explores the history of the lie detector and how it was utilized by various military branches.
“I then show how the technology was created, first used mainly by U.S. law enforcement and how it then found its way into agencies of the American government that concern themselves with national security, especially the Central Intelligence Agency,” Baesler said.“That part makes up the bulk of the book, since it was really the Cold War that brought the polygraph into government service.”

When asked about the subject matter, Baesler said he was interested in exploring the conflict that occurs when governing agencies violate freedom while attempting to protect it.

“There is always a contradiction at play when government agencies argue that they need a lot of power to protect the individual freedoms of citizens,” Baesler said. “I found the polygraph to be a good case study of this phenomenon, since this is a technology that was always controversial but became useful to the federal government.”

Theatre education senior Jennifer Lothian thinks professors who write books offer more to their students than those who do not.

“I think that professors composing their own books is very beneficial to the education of their students,” Lothian said. “Professors who write books are able to pass on their information in a tangible way, aside from just lecturing.”

For Baesler, gaining knowledge was a large part of the writing process.

“I found it quite challenging to write on a complex topic that involves a lot of technical issues in terms of explaining how the polygraph functions, the methodological assumptions behind it and the political and legal issues surrounding it,” Baesler said. “I needed to become an expert on many things and then write clearly about them.”

Baesler learned the importance of hard work and patience throughout his research.

“I learned that good scholarship takes time,” Baesler said. “You need to think about what you want to say and look for evidence to back it up. But that requires patience.”