Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jobs in forensics

As a few readers already know, I'm a PhD candidate working on a problem in the forensic sciences that I've illustrated here from time to time. A few years ago, the National Academy of Sciences declared the state of police (law enforcement staffed) forensic sciences to be quite dismal. Essentially, cops with nothing more than a driver's license and some vendor training on their tools were calling themselves forensic scientists - and coming to some troubling conclusions along the way.

Senator Leahy came along later can wrote a bill that put the NAS report into legislation - declaring that folks should have at least a masters degree to practice forensic science. The problem: no schools confer degrees for many of the CSI type tasks - latent prints, multimedia (video/image/audio), cell phones, tool marks, fire arms, and etc.

Along comes the Obama DOJ to say, it's sad that Leahy got no sponsors to his bill, but we like the idea. We'll do it within the construct of the DOJ's funding priorities - in other words, if you want federal money or you want to bring evidence in federal court, then you'll need to do X, Y, and Z (the work was done in the Executive Office - Subcommittee on Forensic Sciences).

So, schools are being created to confer this type of education. My area in this in multimedia. Part of my PhD dissertation deliverable is the creation of a school of media forensics - a school in a box deliverable that can be given to colleges in any city to start their own programs. In that way, local practitioners do not have to move away from their local areas to UC Denver in order to pursue the degree that they will now need.

Here's the dilemma. Some of the best candidates for this type of work moving forward (forensics) are autistic people. They may fall under one or many of the diagnosis given to autistics - high functioning autism, Aspergers Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, PDD-NOS, and so on. But an initial survey has found that there are many people involved in this industry are either non-diagnosed or diagnosed on the autism spectrum (high functioning side). But while their brains are perfectly wired for forensics - the other characteristics of the autism spectrum cause a problem for entering LE.

Many LE agencies polygraph applicants - not only sworn staff, but all staff - or staff who will handing sensitive cases like anti-terror, narcotics, vice, or internal affairs. Thus, many of the potential forensic scientists will face a polygraph exam.

If you believe the marketing on the polygraph - that the instrument measures the biorhythms, these are not going to read the same for autistics as in a neuro-typical subject. To put it another way, taking the polygraph industry at their word that the instrument shows the readings and the examiner interprets the results - how will the examiner interpret the results of an non neuro-typical person?

Here's some examples:
• One of the characteristics of Aspergers is no eye contact. Another is flapping, or the inability to sit still or some other wild body movement - like a fidget.
• Autistic people may be claustrophobic in terms of things touching them. How will their body react to the blood pressure cuff? How will their body react to the neumo tubes? Sitting still, strapped to a chair generally doesn't work for autistic people.
• Autistic people generally do not like bright lights, flickering fluorescents, or loud sounds. Sitting still, strapped to a chair in a room with bright fluorescent lighting?

Hopefully, you can see where this is going. Many of our best candidates will fail a polygraph exam simply because it is not geared to accommodate the characteristics of autistic people. In failing the exam, they will necessarily be excluded from on the industries uniquely suited to their strengths.

I am hoping to interview both polygraph professionals and other experts in the field on a series of questions related to the premise, how do you effectively polygraph an autistic person.

All interview subjects will be treated with dignity and respect. Results will be kept confidential. Data will be used to support my research and no names will be used. Please feel free to direct message me if you are interested. Also feel free to respond with additional questions or requests for clarification.

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Jim, I read a couple of columns in a newspaper over the weekend which contained valuable insight into part of this problem. (Unfortunately it was a paper copy and I cannot find an online link to pass on.)
As I understand the authors, a very big problem with polygraph testing is that the users are trying to extend their use outside of the normal yes/no type questions and trying to pry into people's backgrounds and psycological make up. This would, of course, be unacceptable for ASD interviewees. Trying to understand or figure out the intent of the question to give an "acceptable" answer would be virtually impossible for even the most capable of us. As I understand the authors, it is not appropriate for even "NT" individuals.

Many with ASD would be able to "pass" a polygraph if the questions were kept in line with the limitations of the polygraph. I also understand that the interviewee is supposed to be given the questions before hand and one on the spectrum could be instructed as to the intent of the question. As an example, a person may slip a pen into their pocket if signing something away from their desk and forget about it. When they get home to do a laundry, they would discover the pen and likely return it the next day. To someone on the spectrum, a question " Have you ever taken stationary home from work? " would be answered truthfully "Yes" and the needle would go off the chart. Given the real purpose of this question is to check basic integrity, this person could be disqualified, where the intent to steal clearly does not exist.

The whole concept of polygraphics seems to be woefully out of date with modern technology and really needs to be revisited and brought into this century. Until this happens, they remain fundamentally useless and need to be scrapped. A lot of good and capable people are going to be rejected and hurt until someone smartens up and fixes this situation. This is a good example of EQ trying to drive when IQ needs to be applied.

Jim Hoerricks said...

I thank you for your comment.

I received a number of off-line comments to my e-mail account. They present an interesting dilemma.

1. If the institution has a policy that a polygraph must be passed in order to obtain employment, and the test isn't passed - for whatever reason - then the person won't be hired. Once size fitting most of the applicants seems good enough for them to not consider revisiting the situation in light of new information on human neuro-diversity.

2. There seems to be a disagreement between the terms disabled and differently abled. While the disabled may have some leverage with the ADA, people who consider themselves differently abled might not choose to seek that route.

3. Some practitioners consider polygraph to be a rock-solid science, backed by many court decisions as to it's usefulness. Others think that because the tests aren't falsifiable - in other words, given a blind exam two examiners could come to different conclusions, etc. - then its not science as such, more of a variation on the interview technique theme.

4. A few seemed to be mad at the question being posed in the first place.