Kick SPOT And MOC Down the Road?

So I heard about The ACLU and the NYCLU taking the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to court recently to obtain documents about the controversial airport screening program called  Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT. It is widely criticized as promoting racial profiling and for having no evidence of effectiveness at identifying terrorists.

It’s been controversial for a while and it has cost taxpayers over a billion dollars since 2007. It’s also based on a technique developed by psychologist, Paul Eckman, who is still marketing it to healthcare professionals with a page on the website saying “See why government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and education and medical professionals are using Dr. Ekman’s training to better understand their clients’ true feelings.”

Way back in 2010, a blogger for the TSA took some heat for praising the program, and with good reason. The Wikipedia article on Eckman highlights the criticisms of his work.

I think it was five years ago or so I remember talking with some of the psychiatry residents about Eckman’s theories and we even played around with one of his CDs on micro expression training. It was kind of fun at the time and I had no idea how problematic the whole thing was.

On the face of it I can see why doctors might fall for it, especially psychiatrists. We would like to have some reliable way to tell if someone is lying to us about suicidality or about having a medical or psychiatric problem (e.g., Factitious Disorder or malingering). But SPOT deludes us and we have to live with our uncertainty.

I can think of one other thing that has provoked a lot of animosity, has next to no evidence supporting its effectiveness yet seeks to convince you that it can do something it can never do, picks your pocket, and is the subject of a lawsuit.

It’s called Maintenance of Certification (MOC). I sometimes wonder why it’s so hard to give up the illusion and put MOC and SPOT back on the road to perdition where they belong.

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