Information technology as snake oil


One has to be cautious when adopting new technologies. In the 1990s, for example, many people were bilked by a company selling machines that shot radio waves into the human body, supposedly to cure a host of diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration eventually ordered the company to stop selling the machines, but a number of the devices are still in use.

But who is to protect the public from bogus IT products? We had to wonder when we received a press release from a California-based company for a revolutionary hiring tool ' software that analyzes handwriting of job applicants to determine, the seller promises, 'hundreds of hidden personality traits, most of which have never been available to employers prior to hiring.'

The thing about this product is that there is no product. You're supposed to ask job applicants to copy two paragraphs into a form and then fax it to the company for analysis. So the seller doesn't even have to put out any money for equipment. All it takes is a fax line and a promise of sophisticated software analysis.

'Imagine the benefit of knowing, with 95 percent accuracy, that the candidate a client is about to make an offer to is argumentative, dishonest, moody and inflexible,' the press release states. 'We can even tell clients if the candidate is violent. No other hiring tool or other personality assessment even comes close to our accuracy and insight.'

Imagine your relief when you discover that the job candidate with a sterling r'sum', great interview skills and glowing references from people you trust turns out to have moody and violent handwriting. You wouldn't want to take a chance on that.

Although the courts have accepted handwriting analysts as relatively reliable at determining whether a specimen of handwriting was produced by a certain person, there has been no solid evidence that such analysis can reliably reveal personality traits.

There is one body that provides some protection ' the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Bogus products sometimes receive patents, but it's worth checking whether a suspect product has USPTO's stamp of approval. For what it's worth, we could find no mention of a patent having been awarded to this product.

And if you feel a product is bogus, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission.

We contacted the handwriting analysis company to ask whether there were any scientific studies backing up their claim about the accuracy of their personality assessments.

We have not received a reply.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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