Cook: Truth will set you free

Cook: Truth will set you free

February 10th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Going in, I was already worried about a few questions. Like:

How much Wham! do you listen to?

How accurate, exactly, were those deductions in 2011?

Do these pants make me look fat?

"It's more stressful to lie than tell the truth," says Sgt. Dave Scroggins.

Scroggins is a detective with the Rossville Police Department. He also works with the FBI. If you don't know him, keep it that way.

If you do, odds are you're sitting in a hard, black chair, staring at a white wall and strapped to bundles of wires while Scroggins watches a desk full of monitors and determines whether you're Honest Abe or lying worse than Lance Armstrong.

Scroggins administers lie detector tests.

And not long ago, I brought my best poker face into his office and challenged him to a duel:

My lie against his detector.

"You can't beat the polygraph," he said.

For more than two decades, Scroggins, trained originally by the U.S. Air Force, has been administering polygraph tests. Works with police throughout Georgia. Even the Department of Defense, he said.

"Forty exams a year," he said.

It's a controversial practice: Critics say it's about as reliable as, say, drowning a witch. Scroggins defends it wholeheartedly.

"This craft works," he said. "If you have a very, very good and attentive examiner who gives a good test, you can't beat an exam."

All the wires are set on hair-trigger sensitivity to detect the smallest of bodily changes. Much like gossip columnists.

But the trick is having a professional examiner who knows how to read them. And you.

Think of it this way: Remember your parents, who could smell a lie before you even pull into the driveway?

That's Scroggins, who keeps one eye on the machines and the other on how his suspect is acting.

Pre-test, I did some homework. Consulted websites and colleagues (put soap under your arm, a tack in your shoe, think about stress-causing math problems) while also practicing at home: Yes dear, I already did the laundry. No, honey, I don't mind watching another episode of "Glee."

Decided on the 007 strategy: Play it cool, smooth, like a menthol.

"Let me give you a little test," Scroggins begins.

Strapped up with wires on my chest, my arm, even under my tush (which may or may not look fat in the pants I'm wearing). Staring at the white wall. Nervous, just 'cause.

Scroggins puts a $20 bill under my left hand. Instructs me to answer honestly his questions:

Is it a $5? ("No.")

A $10? ("No.")

A $20? ("Yes.")

Easy enough. Scroggins then tells me to lie. When he asks me -- is it a $20? -- I'm supposed to say no.

Should have been like hitting kid-pitch softball. Saw the Big Question coming a mile away. So I calmed myself, tried pull off some Jedi mind trick.

"Is it a $20?"

(Breathe. Breathe. Did I put enough soap under my arm? Breathe.)

"No," I said.

Been to Lake Winnie recently? Know how the Cannonball roller coaster has that initial flat stretch, and then spikes straight up and then straight down?

That's what my lie looked like on the polygraph chart.

After my $20 lie, Scroggins unstrapped me and printed off the graphs of my biometrics. He explained the normal highs and lows, but then fingered the Mount Everest spike that the machine recorded when I fibbed.

Washington was right: You can't tell a lie, after all.

"It's just easier -- emotionally, mentally and physically -- to tell the truth," Scroggins said.

Long time ago, Pilate stood before Christ, and asked the big one: What is truth?

Today, we wrestle with Beyonce's lip-syncing, Kathryn Bigelow films, reality TV, and modern politicians: How do we know what's real and what isn't?

Scroggins and his lie detector test offer some reassurance. Apparently, we humans have a tough time lying. It's just easier telling the truth.

Remember that the next time you embellish your tax returns or blame it on the dog.

But I wouldn't know anything about that.

I swear.