Several of the posts on this blog relate to the logical approach to evidence evaluation; aka, the coherent logical approach, or the likelihood-ratio (LR) approach. In my opinion, it is the best way to evaluate evidence for forensic purposes no matter what type of evidence is being discussed. I say “best” because it is simple, logically sound, and relatively straight-forward to apply in forensic work. It helps to promote transparency through the application of a thorough and complete evaluation process (all points I have explained in other posts).
The reality is, however, that this approach is still not well understood by forensic practitioners, nor by members of the legal profession.
I hope that in time, and with education, that will change. Several workshops I have presented have been aimed at helping examiners understand what it really means, how it works, the philosophical basis behind the approach as well as the need for and benefit of doing things that particular way. It really does work to the benefit of both the examiner and their ultimate client, the court.
One recurring issue at these workshops relates to the very basic and fundamental concept of what the term “Bayesian” means. For various reasons, but mainly just misunderstanding, many people in the forensic document examination community hold the term “Bayesian” in negative regard. When the word ‘Bayes’, or any of its many derivations, come up in the conversation eyes glaze over while heads sag ever so slightly. And those are the positive people in the crowd.
I find such reactions understandable, but unfortunate. The fact is that an understanding of the term is beneficial for anyone interested in how it might be applied in a forensic evidence context, whether or not one chooses to do so. Indeed, for myself the answer to the question posed above — when is a Bayesian not a Bayesian? — lies in knowing how the overall Bayesian philosophy and theorem (or rule) differs from the more constrained and limited logical approach to evidence evaluation. These two are not the same or even close to equivalent.
When someone “opens a can of worms” it usually spells trouble. For many people, that phrase evokes a powerful image of a writhing mess of worms escaping from a previously-sealed, but now opened, can or container. With the result of such action being serious problems for the owner of said can, often problems of an unanticipated or uncertain nature. In the context of our work as Forensic Document Examiners I sometimes hear this in discussions of how to handle questions on the stand. The advice goes along the lines of ‘keep your answers simple and say as little as possible in order to limit any opportunity for questions from the other side.’
It is suggested that lengthy or complex answers will only lead to more questions and more discussion. The latter are the proverbial “can of worms” that one must strive to avoid opening.
That makes little sense to me.
This year’s International Conference on Forensic Inference and Statistics (ICFIS) is being held at Leiden University in the Netherlands. ICFIS conferences are always very good and this is the 9th such event. I am hoping to attend to present my thoughts on the topic of education relating to the logical (a.k.a. likelihood-ratio or LR) approach to evidence evaluation. Over the last few years I have given several one and two-day seminars and workshops on this topic, mainly for Forensic Document Examiners (FDEs) though the subject matter relates to all disciplines equally. Those workshops have been great and provided a relatively unusual opportunity to learn about how fully trained examiners come to grips with a complicated and difficult topic. One that is fundamental to FDE work.
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.
It is absolutely true that most forensic scientists want to be completely logical, open and transparent in their approach to the evaluation of evidence. Further, I am sure that most document examiners believe this is exactly what they are achieving when they apply the procedures outlined in various traditional textbooks or the SWGDOC/ ASTM standards; for example, the SWGDOC Standard for Examination of Handwritten Items.
Given the very understandable desire to be logical, I find it strange that so many people have a negative attitude towards anything Bayesian in nature. After all, an approach to evidence evaluation conforming to the Bayesian philosophy or approach would be quite literally the embodiment of logic (more specifically, probabilistic logic).