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Could lie detector tests be the solution to catch doping cheats?

Anti-doping conference floats the idea of the controversial tests

The chief executive of UK Anti-Doping has said that the organisation would support the use of lie detector tests to combat the increasingly wily ways of professional sports dopers.

Andy Parkinson spoke after the demonstration of the type of testing machine - used to provide evidence against Alberto Contador - this week at a Tackling Doping in Sport conference at Twickenham.

The detector works by monitoring stress reactions to questions.

Any formal introduction of lie-detector testing would have to be approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Mr Parkinson told the Guardian: "Potentially the lie detector could provide some assurance when you ask a banned athlete if they are doping over the period of their suspension," he said. "It might give you additional assurance that the athlete is taking that ban seriously. There is some potential around it.

"The premise of looking at lie detectors and hair testing is based on the fact that we need to be innovative. I think we need to be more innovative. If you can do it and do it reliably, then great. We would only bring it in if it was approved by Wada and the Court of Arbitration for Sport as a legitimate means for presenting evidence.

"We've looked into it and I think it's similar to hair testing in that there are some benefits – any test in anti-doping for evidence needs to be able to be implemented on a worldwide basis. If it is used it cannot just be the single piece of evidence. It should give you an indication rather than a definitive yes or no."

There are known problems with lie detector tests though, with many experts deeming them unreliable. In Contador's case, he passed apolygraph tesst saying that he'd not knowingly taken the steroid clenbuterol, despite testing positive for the substance.

Mike Morgan, a lawyer for Squire Sanders, who represented Contador, said it was not foolproof: "If you're forcing someone to take the test and they don't want to take it, it increases the unlikelihood of an inaccurate test."

"There is still a margin of error and the possibility of a test not being accurate, so it can never be definitive. If you're an athletic authority you're not going to hang your hat on one polygraph result but what it could do is help in an investigation."

Whatever the solution to catching doping cheats though, the message taken away from the conference was that action needed to be taken - and fast.

Writing in Inside the Games, the sports writer Mike Rowbottom said that it was time to take swift action.

He said: "An amnesty might deal swiftly with the mass of cases now emerging within cycling, which might otherwise continue to drip-feed into the public consciousness as they are dealt with singly; full disclosure through a time-limited amnesty could clear this up, and make a significant reassuring marker in terms of public perception; information gleaned might be beneficial to a wide range of other sports seeking to combat doping – indeed, this might be the only means of obtaining such information."

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ch | 11 years ago

I suggest Amgen be persuaded to add an inert fat soluble additive to EPO medication which can be easily detected in a blood test weeks after it is administered.

Yes, Amgen who sponsored the Tour of California.

antonio | 11 years ago

DNA, end of!

notfastenough | 11 years ago

What an odd development. What next, using psychics to locate hidden blood bags?!

drfabulous0 | 11 years ago

You don't need a polygraph to tell if Contador is lying, just check to see if his lips are moving.

Colin Peyresourde | 11 years ago

Quite frankly this sounds like an early April fools joke. You know it doesn't count if it isn't on the first....

Otherwise one would wonder about the efficacy of our esteemed anti-doping agency. I think the tests are out there to prove drug taking, just not the will to do so.....

Tjuice | 11 years ago

Just read the Tyler Hamilton book (it's very well worth reading if you haven't already done so). He clearly states there that he took a polygraph test to deny doping and passed.

Seems like that's as clear an indication as any that a polygraph test is a complete waste of time in the battle against doping.

SteppenHerring | 11 years ago

There is no such thing as a "lie detector". I hate the phrase and really wish the media would stop using it. There are polygraphs and the like that can give indications of stress but as the previous poster says, they are pretty dodgy. They have no place in any serious investigation of wrongdoing.

Paul J | 11 years ago

This is a worrying development. Lie detector tests are unreliable, be they based on cardiac/metabolic indicators as in polygraphs, or eye-movements, or FMRI. If lie detector tests have any use, it is a prop in interrogations, to help an interrogator persuade a naïve subject that it is in their best interests to co-operate.

All the studies where polygraphs appear to show good results are under conditions where this effect likely is present (e.g. prisoners who have an interest in pleasing the interrogator).

Objective, peer-reviewed studies under lab conditions show that the polygraph is no better at detecting truth or lies than a human interrogator could on their own. There is no evidence to suggest that other methods, such as eye-movement NLPs or FMRIs would fare any better.

Anyone who says lie detector tests can detect lies in any meaningful, useful way is likely trying to sell you them, and/or has been taken for a mug.

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