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Column: Truth and consequences on April 1

Today, April 1, many of you will join me in the liar’s club. Hey, there’s a big dog — wait — is that a coyote in the backyard? What? April Fools!

But I’m not alone in fibbing, and not just on April 1. Remember the expression: Show me someone who says they don’t lie and I’ll show you a liar.

Is there harm in calling the boss Wednesday morning to say you’re taking the day off work because your 5-year-old has a cold and you have to nurse him, when you really crave a mental health day of watching trash TV? Probably not. No, absolutely not. 

We live in the age of The Big Lie, spread like swamp gas over our democracy by the Former Guy (FG), and that will now and forever give license to every defeated and immoral person with no sense of patriotism to scream bloody murder that an election has been stolen. 

The FG has always had a remote relationship with the truth, writing (ha!) in a book he co-authored with a ghostwriter: “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.”

He knows there’s a sucker born every minute. And two to take him.

A few years ago, I was caught flat-out lying. A man named Joel Reicherter found me out. On assignment for a newspaper, I was caught while sitting in Mr. Reicherter’s home office in Nassau County. Two bands across my chest to measure breathing, my palms rigged up to measure perspiration, and a blood pressure wrap on my forearm, were all attached to his laptop. In a “pick a card, any card” trick, I was asked to select five cards from the deck, which were “my cards,” but not acknowledge them when they turned up, saying other cards were really mine. Mr. Reicherter revealed one card at a time and caught me every time. What made it even more magical was I was found out by not even saying a word, but silently, in my head, answering “no” when my cards were revealed. Later the polygraphist showed me my chart. When I lied about my cards, my rates of perspiration, breathing and blood pressure rose significantly.

Almost every government agency uses polygraphs and Mr. Reicherter has made a good living as a consultant, but he’s also a teacher, with a doctorate in physiology, and a professor emeritus at SUNY. Mr. Reicherter even went to Hollywood where he coached Robert DeNiro in the polygraph scene of “Meet the Parents.”

And one shining moment in his career was helping spring a man from prison after 19 years, who had been wrongly convicted of an exceptionally brutal double homicide. One day at the beginning of the century, Mr. Reicherter spent several hours running polygraphs in an upstate prison with Martin Tankleff, who had been convicted of murdering his parents when he was 17. Before meeting Tankleff, Mr. Reicherter went through the evidence that had convicted him and was, he told me, convinced Tankleff was guilty. “I was shaken when he passed the polygraph.”

Simply put, when we’re not telling the truth, what Reicherter calls “the mind-body agreement” is in conflict and physiologically we’re altered by the untruth.

True? Not really, many other experts say. I asked Robert Bornstein, professor of psychology at Adelphi’s Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, and he said a polygraph “doesn’t measure honesty or measure a person’s attempt to deceive. It only measures a level of physiological arousal.”

Our judicial system is almost exclusively against the use of polygraphs as evidence, with only New Mexico accepting results for presentation in court. Technically, other states will allow it, if the prosecution and defense agrees, which never happens.

Tomorrow, the annual festival celebrated by tricksters, fibbers, pranksters, frauds and other perverse sorts, is nothing new and not unique to us but is “celebrated,” for lack of a better term, by many different cultures. According to several sources, the Fools’ Day has to do with the calendar, going back to the late 16th century when France shelved the Julian calendar — with the New Year beginning with the spring equinox around April 1 — and went Gregorian. They called the Julian calendar “the Hindu calendar.” (No fooling.)

Seems the folks who didn’t get the news about the date change in a timely fashion, or thought it was misinformation, still went full-out New Year partying in late March/early April. Those in the know called these deluded people “April Fools,” of course, and proceeded to dupe them into all kinds of embarrassing situations, playing them for … you know. 

But then, Edgar Allen Poe said, “I have great faith in fools — self-confidence, my friends will call it.”

Happy April.

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