The expression “better late than never” applies to this post. Over the span of two days in June 2013 the Measurement Science and Standards in Forensic Handwriting Analysis (MSSFHA) conference was held. It explored the (then) current state of forensic handwriting analysis, aka, forensic handwriting examination (FHE). Presentations varied in content but most discussed recent advancements in measurement science and quantitative analyses as it relates to FHE.
The conference was organized by NIST’s Law Enforcement Standards Office (OLES) in collaboration with the AAFS — Questioned Document Section, the ABFDE, the ASQDE, the FBI Laboratory, the NIJ and SWGDOC.
What is certification? To me, professional certification is a designation that indicates the holder of the certification has appropriate and adequate qualifications to do some particular, generally well-defined, job or task. As an example I am a forensic document examiner and I have received professional certification from the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, Inc.
An internet search for ‘certification’ produces a huge list of possibilities, with more such programs being developed all the time as people become attuned to issues of quality and competency. Indeed, almost every profession has some type of certification and a few have several (consider all of the ‘certifications’ in the computing industry). Most, if not all, certification programs are aimed at improving the quality in a given profession by setting minimum standards for the job. The basic idea is that someone meeting or exceeding those standards will produce quality output on the job. Certification programs are generally created or are administered by a professional society, a college or university, or some private body set up expressly for that purpose.
Forensic Document Examination is no exception so it may be worthwhile discussing certification options as well as the pros and cons that I see for those options.
It is safe to say that pretty much everyone working in the forensic sciences has heard of the Daubert ruling or, more specifically, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993). It was a pivotal ruling that, together with two subsequent rulings General Electric Co. v Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997) and Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), has greatly affected many legal jurisdictions in the United States. And, as is often the case, what happens in the USA also tends to have influence elsewhere.
A few years later in Canada there was a key Supreme Court of Canada ruling that addressed admissibility of forensic expertise — R. v. Mohan,  2 S.C.R. 9. That is the ruling which laid out the test for the admissibility of ‘novel’ expert evidence (see Mohan, page 4) in Canada. Subsequently, the factors explained in that ruling have been applied, just as those in Daubert were, to many types of traditional forensic science evidence. It is rather ironic that rulings intended to liberalise the admission of new (and potentially) helpful evidence would lead to challenges of all forms and types of evidence.
It has oft been said that “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”. That phrase, according to Mark Twain, came from Benjamin Disraeli. Interestingly, it has never been found in Disraeli’s written works so that attribution is likely incorrect.
A lie, perhaps, by Twain?
But I digress. The source of the statement doesn’t really matter. It is enough that the phrase reflects the belief that many people have when they think about statistics. It is a catchy little phrase. Yet most reasonable people know that numbers — and statistics are simply numbers after all — cannot do anything on their own. Hence, statistics can no more lie than they can sing or dance.
This year the Annual General Meeting of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE) is being held in Indianapolis, Indiana on August 24 through 29, 2013. In keeping with the theme, “Demonstrative Science: Illustrating Findings in Reports and Court Testimony”, I will be presenting a one-day workshop entitled “Conclusion Scales and Logical Inference” on Sunday, August 25.