Friday, April 18, 2003
1. POLYGRAPH: DOE DECIDES TO SIMPLY REISSUE ITS OLD POLICY.
National Academy of Sciences completed its review of scientific
evidence on the polygraph (WN 15 Dec 00). The NAS report, "The
Polygraph and Lie Detection" (NAS Press, 2003), found polygraph
tests to be unacceptable for DOE employee security screening
because of the high rate of false positives and susceptibility to
countermeasures. Congress instructed the Department of Energy to
reevaluate its policies on the use of the polygraph in light of
the NAS report. DOE carefully reevaluated its policies and
reissued them without change, arguing that a high rate of false
positives must mean the threshold for detecting lies is very low.
Therefore, the test must also nab a lot of true positives. Since
that's the goal, the DOE position seems to be that the polygraph
tests are working fine and false positives are just unavoidable
collateral damage. But there is still a countermeasures problem:
anyone can be trained to fool the polygraph in just five minutes.
WN therefore recommends replacing the polygraph with a coin toss.
If a little collateral damage is not a problem, coins will catch
fully half of all spies, a vast improvement over the polygraph,
which has never caught even one. Moreover, coins are notoriously
difficult to train, making them impervious to countermeasures.
2. SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED: RESTRAINTS ON FLOW OF INFORMATION.
All governments covet the power to withhold information from the
public, as well as from other governments (WN 21 Mar
accepted means is classification, but that obstructs information
sharing within the government, often with serious consequences.
The solution has been to create a new category of "sensitive but
unclassified" information, aimed at keeping the information from
us. A new report by Genevieve J. Knezo of the Congressional
Research Service covers the whole area of secrecy: "Sensitive But
Unclassified and Other Federal Security Controls on Scientific
Information: History and Current Controversy," April 2, 2003.
3. LOW-EARTH ORBIT: THE PRISONERS OF SPACE STATION FREEDOM.
that the Iraq War is winding down (WN 21 Mar 03), the media is
beginning to resume coverage of the International Space Station
and the future of NASA after Columbia. Yuri Koptov, director of
the Russian space agency, warned again that, with the shuttles
grounded, supplies and people could not be ferried to the ISS
unless NASA picked up the tab (WN 14 Mar 03). With the White
House already at odds with Russia over its opposition to the War,
there was not much chance of that. But President Putin reassured
the ISS crew that Russia stands by its commitments to the ISS as
long as the shuttles remain grounded.
4. SUV FUEL ECONOMY: REMEMBER BUSH'S VOLUNTARY PLAN?
they say the first liar hasn't got a chance. Ford started off,
promising to improve fuel economy 25% by 2005. Shucks, the
others said, we'll do at better'n that. Yesterday, Ford backed
away. The others haven't spoken up yet, but they will.