Sunday, March 15, 2009

Coming to Tommy's Defense on Tool Academy

Tool Academy was a great show on VH1 in which a group of obnoxious, arrogant "alpha males" are tricked into attending a "school" that is supposed to teach them how to be less of a tool. The finale was last week, in which the "Tiny Tool," an avid bowler, won the $100K prize. If you didn't watch it then don't ask, you'll never understand.

This week was the "reunion" show. I usually don't watch those, but I was curious about these characters because well I just was, don't ask me to explain it. Some of them are just so rotten, you can't look away.

The rottenest couple of all was Tommy and Krista. Much was made of the fact that Tommy was perennially unemployed (he was called "The Slacker Tool") and that Krista was the responsible one, supporting him. In the first episode we learned that Krista, who has two children with another man, was using her ex's child support payments to support Tommy.

"He's living off of my child support... which is to support my children" (3:05 in)

And she is the responsible one. (Isn't it illegal to use child support payments for anything other than a child's expenses? Apparently not.

In most states, however, the money may be spent on whatever the custodial parent wants. In those instances, there is little recourse available to the non-custodial parent to challenge the expenditures.

Hopefully some enterprising lawyer will see this clip of a woman admitting on national television that she uses her child support money to support her deadbeat boyfriend and work on getting those laws changed. If I were the father of Krista's kids I would be one exceptionally angry young and good looking man with excellent hair.)

Krista and Tommy, in happier times.

Anyway, on the reunion episode, Krista claimed that she read on the one of the VH1 blogs that several women have claimed to have "hooked up" with Tommy at his new bartending job. She says that the blog postings contained information about Tommy's "junk" that only someone who had been in that area would know. She then goes on to tell everyone just what that detail is.

So, she says, she wants Tommy to take a lie detector test.

Fine. After the show, right? Nope, a lie detector is brought out right there, and Tommy allows himself to be hooked up to it, and a test is administered. On television, in front of a loud studio audience. In front of the other tools, and their mates.

The results, we're told by the eminently qualified polygraph operator, show that Tommy's answers either indicated "deception" or were "inconclusive." At that point, Krista walks away disgusted, and the cameras follow Tommy as he tries to plead his case, insisting he did not cheat, that he loves her, and still wants to try to work things out. It goes on for an interminable period of time- in fact it goes on for so long that it starts to get shall we say uncomfortable to watch.

Tommy is a tool, but so is Krista, and he should count himself lucky to be rid of her, and they should both move on. But Tommy was blindsided and taken advantage of. Lie detectors are unreliable. There is plenty of research that says so:

Studies have long shown that polygraphs are remarkably unreliable, particularly for screening job applicants. As early as 1965, a congressional committee concluded that there was no evidence to support the polygraph's validity; a 1997 survey in the Journal of Applied Psychology put the test's accuracy rate at only 61 percent. Polygraph evidence is generally inadmissible in court because, as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his majority opinion in the 1998 case U.S. v. Scheffer, "there is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable." Indeed, the lie detector is so untrustworthy that Congress passed the Employee Polygraph Protection Act in 1988, making it illegal for private-sector employers to compel workers to take polygraph exams. Prior to the law's passage, according to Senate testimony, an estimated 400,000 workers suffered adverse consequences each year after they were wrongly flunked on polygraphs.

Without question, lie detector tests are controversial. Putting aside their utility as interrogation devices, the validity of their results depends on a lot of things being done right -- the right control questions, the right neutral questions, the right core questions, the right interpretation of the graphs, the right setting for the questioning, and so on. And not all scientific evaluations have concluded that they are accurate even when everything is done right.

The accuracy of polygraph tests is a matter of considerable controversy. While some claim the test to be accurate in 70% - 90% of the cases, critics charge that rather than a "test", the method amounts to an inherently unstandardizable interrogation technique whose accuracy cannot be established. Polygraph tests have also been criticized for failing to catch actual spies such as Aldrich Ames, who passed two polygraph tests while spying for the Russians.

The dirty little secret behind the polygraph is that the "test" depends on trickery, not science. The person being "tested" is not supposed to know that while the polygraph operator declares that all questions must be answered truthfully, warning that the slightest hint of deception will be detected, he secretly assumes that denials in response to certain questions -- called "control" questions -- will be less than truthful. An example of a commonly used control question is, "Did you ever lie to get out of trouble?" The polygrapher steers the examinee into a denial by warning, for example, that anyone who would do so is the same kind of person who would commit the kind of behavior that is under investigation and then lie about it. But secretly, it is assumed that everyone has lied to get out of trouble.

I could go on, but I don't feel like coming to Tommy's defense anymore. He should have stood up for himself and said "Polygraph tests are pseudoscientific BS and I won't submit to one, especially not under these incredibly stressful circumstances when my adrenaline is pumping and my heart is racing anyway," or something like that. I also suspect he's better off without Krista who, as I've already pointed out, is even more of a tool than he could ever hope to be- for using child support money to pay for her boyfriend. What a rotten hypocrite.

Someone needs to think of the children!

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