OVER the past four years, some 3,000 officers in America's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been specially trained to spot potential terrorists at airports. The programme, known as SPOT, for "Screening Passengers by Observation Technique," is intended to allow airport security officers to use tiny facial cues to identify people who are acting suspiciously. The British government is currently launching a new screening regime modelled on the Americans' SPOT. There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective. The whole thing is mostly based on pseudoscience, Sharon Weinberger reports in Nature:
"Simply put, people (including professional lie-catchers with extensive experience of assessing veracity) would achieve similar hit rates if they flipped a coin," noted a 2007 report1 from a committee of credibility-assessment experts who reviewed research on portal screening.
"No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent," declares a 2008 report prepared by the JASON defence advisory group. And the TSA had no business deploying SPOT across the nation's airports "without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment", stated a two-year review of the programme released on 20 May by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress."
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