Measurement Science and Standards in Forensic Handwriting Analysis Conference

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.

NIST Forensic logoThe 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.
Read more


Forewarned is forearmed or, if Latin is your thing, “praemonitus, praemunitus”. So the saying goes and clearly there is great value in knowing what lies ahead for us. If we know what is coming our way we can, in theory, prepare properly for any challenge.

Challenges are nothing new to forensic scientists. Critics routinely point out issues with our work. Some of those criticisms are fair and reasonable, others not so much. Much of the critical commentary affects a discipline as a whole demanding an overall, or group, response by members of each discipline. In my experience, disciplines are generally behind the curve in their responses to critics. Nonetheless, over time some issues have been addressed, at least partially if not completely, through empirical research.  Others have not. To be fair, the activities needed to properly address the critics are not trivial and require both time and resources; scarce commodities in modern forensic labs. Overall, things are improving, albeit very slowly.

Criticism takes on a whole new meaning in the context of a court of law. Indeed, I think that criticism is the essence of cross-examination — a fundamental and important aspect of any adversarial justice system. Although essential, it is rarely an enjoyable part of the proceedings for any expert. Read more

Statistics — Worse than a lie

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?

Statistics lies, Mallett 2006

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.1 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.
Read more