Rational Bias in Forensic Science
Posted: 22 Mar 2010
The current organization of forensic science induces biases in the conduct of forensic science even if forensic scientists are perfectly rational. Assuming forensic examiners are flawless Bayesian statisticians helps us to identify structural sources of error that we might otherwise have undervalued or missed altogether. Specifically, forensic examiners’ conclusions are affected not just by objective test results but also by two subjective factors: their prior beliefs about a suspect's likely guilt or innocence and the relative importance they attach to convicting the guilty rather than the innocent. The authorities-police and prosecutors-implicitly convey information to forensic examiners by their very decision to submit samples for testing. This information induces the examiners to update their prior beliefs in a manner that results in a greater tendency to provide testimony that incriminates the defendant. Forensic results are in a sense ‘contaminated’ by the prosecution and thus do not provide jurors with an independent source of information. Structural reforms to address such problems of rational bias include independence from law enforcement, blind proficiency testing and separation of test from interpretation.
Keywords: forensic science, bias, Bayesian, NAS report, organization
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