Recent Research on Expert Witnesses May Help Reduce Error Rates in the Forensic Sciences Roger Koppl Fairleigh Dickinson University Lawrence Kobilinsky John Jay College
Summary • Forensic scientists are expert witnesses • There is social science literature on expert witnesses • We can learn from this literature • Studying the literature on social science may help us reduce the error rate in forensic science • A taxonomy of errors is proposed
Why Bother? • Errors are bad • The forensic science community has come under fire • We do not yet have an effective strategy of response to recent challenges • “Forensic science administration” (based on the expert witness literature) may be part of such a strategy
In other words • A real human being • Whom we study in a scientific manner
The literature in expert witnesses • Views expert witnesses as human beings • Recognizes that human beings respond to their social environment, which may induce or inhibit errors • Helps us to seek ways of reducing error rates by re-organizing that social environment
Forensic Science • Larry S. Miller • “Procedural Bias in Forensic Science Examinations of Human Hair,” Law and Human Behavior, 1987, 11:157-163.
Sociology, Philosophy, and Science Studies • Karl Mannheim • David Bloor • Simon Cole • Steve Fuller • Robert K. Merton • Alvin Goldman • Philip Kitcher • Kobilinsky and Koppl
Economics • Susan Feigenbaum and David M. Levy • Luke M. Froeb and Bruce H. Kobayashi. • “Naive, Biased, yet Bayesian: Can Juries Interpret Selectively Produced Evidence?” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 1996, 12: 257-276.
Law and Psychology • Itiel Dror. • “When Emotions Get the Better of Us: The Effect of Contextual Top-down Processing on Matching Fingerprints,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2005, 19: 799-809. • Richard Posner • “An Economic Approach to Legal Evidence,” Stanford Law Review, 1999, 51: 1477-1546.
Lessons • Institutions matter because they create a social environment • Forensic scientists respond to their social environment • The right social environment minimizes errors • The social environment of forensic science should be similar to that of pure science
Applying the lessons of the literature on expert witnesses • Means reducing the error rate in forensic science • Requires a useful classification of errors
Forensic-science Errors • Task-based errors • explained by considering the underlying phenomena being examined. • Agent-based errors • explained by considering the properties of the forensic scientist.
Agent-based Errors • Errors against nature • May emerge even when procedures are followed • Errors against standard • Emerge only when procedures are not followed
Forensic Science Administration • Applies the literature on expert witnesses to forensic science • Studies Agent-based errors • Errors against nature • Errors against standard • Suggests ways to alter the institutions of forensic science that may reduce the frequency of errors
So What? • We have a research program designed to reduce error rates in forensic science • This research program may help the forensic science community respond to recent challenges • And reduce error rates