January 1967

Lie-Detecting Hucksters

“In the past few years both the methods of ‘lie detection’ and the polygraph itself have been subjected to increasingly critical scrutiny. Although the polygraph was developed as an aid in police work, enterprising practitioners have long since discovered new applications for the device, and since about 1950 the polygraph has become firmly established in industry and government. There are some 500 commercial polygraph firms. Many companies retain polygraph examiners not only to investigate specific losses but also to conduct routine preemployment interviews in an attempt to identify applicants with a criminal record, alcoholics, homosexuals or people who are likely to be disloyal to the company. Outside the Federal Government the polygraph remains largely uncontrolled. So far only Illinois, Kentucky and New Mexico have adopted legislation requiring polygraph operators to be licensed.”

Asphalt Agriculture

“Petroleum products are being used in an ingenious effort to upgrade submarginal land. In Libya the Esso Research and Engineering Company undertook in 1961 to stabilize 125 acres of shifting sand dunes by spraying them with a low-grade oil. Such dunes usually cannot support even vegetation that will grow in the desert, but the company announced that 80 percent of the eucalyptus and acacia seedlings it had planted on the dunes had survived and are now trees averaging 25 feet in height. The Libyan government has contracted for the stabilization of 3,000 additional acres, an action that could eventually lead to the creation of a national forest in the treeless desert kingdom.”

January 1917

Attention Span

“Why is it that motion pictures are so popular? Why are they able to compete side by side with our best plays? It is difficult indeed to hold the interest of a metropolitan audience through three acts of a drama when the plot can be anticipated in the first act. Modernism calls for abbreviated action; and photoplays are stories told more or less in synopsis form. The plot is unfolded in the least possible time. Thus, if a stage play requires three hours, in the photoplay it is pictorially told in one hour, and just as effectively. The only exception is to be found in those plays that depend for their success on clever volleys of dialogue.”

Motor Vehicles

“In the year just closed, the U.S. has produced more automobiles, both passenger carrying and commercial vehicle types, than have ever before been made in the same period. The development of the automobile mechanism has reached that point where the majority of automobiles incorporate the same essential principles. It matters not whether the engine is one of four or twelve cylinders or the selling price of the car $500 or $5,000, the proportions of the constituent parts and the best materials for the different members are now so well known that engine or chassis failure, resulting from poor design, is practically unknown on even the cheapest cars.”

For archive images of motor vehicles from 1917, see www.ScientificAmerican.com/jan2017/motors

Harvesting Ice

“A large part of the ice consumed yearly in this country has its origin miles or hundreds of miles away, on the surface of some quiet lake. During the winter the ice harvest furnishes employment to a large army of men; and if the cold weather brings to a complete halt many industries and occupations in the rural districts of our northern States, it is equally true that the ice harvest offers lucrative employment to those desirous of work [see illustration above].”

January 1867

The Epoch of Tunnels

“Tunneling on railroads is being pushed to an extreme. Even where a detour would avoid a bore, engineers seem to have a peculiar gratification in piercing the earth. Apart from the pride of a great work completed, is it not possible that the fascination of delving after the mysterious and unknown may be a clue to the present rage for tunneling? We tunnel under lakes for water, through mountains for roads intended to save time and distance, and even propose to unite countries, severed by seas, with tunnels. This age may be called the age of the earth-borers.”