The 11th International Conference on Forensic Inference and Statistics, or ICFIS 2023, is set for June 12-15 of this year. It will be held at the Faculty of Law (Juridicum) of Lund University, Lund, Sweden. While I am saddened that I cannot attend this particular meeting, several years ago I had the pleasure of going to the 2014 International Conference on Forensic Inference and Statistics, or ICFIS which was the 9th iteration of the conference. I wrote a blog post about that meeting some time ago.
I can say, based on past experience alone, that this meeting is well worth attending. That’s particularly true if you are interested in the logical approach to evidence evaluation, but it would benefit any forensic scientist. You will not find a better collection of brilliant people all focused on forensic inference, in the broadest sense.
Forensic scientists, lawyers, academics—they will all be there.
The event ran through a full 24-hour period. There were three live panel discussions, as well as five pre-recorded scientific session blocks. The program was designed to accommodate attendees regardless of their location around the world. The working language of this conference was English.
When an examiner expresses an opinion along the lines of ‘the findings support one proposition over another proposition’, a question often follows. Specifically, does that opinion mean ‘it is more likely than not that the favored proposition actually happened’?1 The short answer is “no, it does not mean that.” At least, not necessarily.
In order to reach such a conclusion one must consider information that goes beyond the FDE evidence. As a rule, any opinion I provide will be constrained to the probability of the findings/observations in terms of one of at least two possible explanations.2 Ultimately, equating the two statements is inappropriate because they are not equivalent.
People sometimes question whether forensic work is scientific in nature. Given that the overall discipline is called ‘forensic science’ this is an interesting, if rather meaningless, question. I say ‘meaningless’ because, practically speaking, it is a non-issue.
Why? Simply because a court may choose to admit anyone as an expert, whether their expertise is scientific, purely experiential, or something else entirely. Nonetheless, it is interesting to consider the issue, if only because forensic document examination is one of those disciplines where a common challenge as to whether or not it involves any “science” at all.
Years ago, in 2013 to be precise, I was invited to speak at the ICA conference held in Montréal, Québec. The conference had a special session on “distinguishing between science and pseudoscience in forensic acoustics”. Now, I am definitely not an expert in forensic acoustics. In fact, I know almost nothing about the field other than what I’ve read from time to time. So I wasn’t there to tell the audience anything about forensic acoustics, per se.
Many years ago I came across an interesting, if limited, discussion in a blog post entitled “Expert testimony in pattern evidence cases – is absolute uniqueness necessary?”1,2 That post is dated Sept 4, 2009, shortly after the publication of National Academy of Science’s report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: a Path Forward”.3 But the basic question posed in it is still relevant today. I would say that most forensic practitioners today would answer the question about the necessity of ‘absolute uniqueness’ in the negative. However, their individual reason(s) for their answer will still vary.
For many people, ‘absolute uniqueness’ is mainly a ‘forbidden’ concept because of some policy they must follow, or because of a more personal recognition of an (often vague) issue relating to the ‘limits of science’. For other people the matter is a well-defined issue in science and logic dictated by the nature and limits of information (knowledge), what information can really tell us about the world, and how information can and should be used to update beliefs about the world. For the latter group (which is steadily increasing in size as awareness and understanding improves), the concept of ‘absolute uniqueness’ is neither required, nor even beneficial in forensic work.
There has been a LOT of discussion about this in recent years, but I found the blog post interesting at the time even though it focused mainly on latent print examination. I feel that not much has changed since then so, even now, it deserves recognition and consideration. Since the blog itself is no longer active, I have reposted the complete series of messages here (pulling them from archive.org).
The topic started with a post from the moderator (Barry Fisher) who wrote:
Expert testimony in pattern evidence cases – is absolute uniqueness necessary? What information is needed to form a conclusion about an identification? Do conclusions require statistical data, as in DNA cases, to offer an opinion? Is it possible to state that two items of evidence come from a sole source? What may an expert opine when no statistical data is readily available and only experience suggests a conclusion? The National Academy report raises some profound questions and some intriguing research possibilities. But in the interim, while we wait for academics to study the multitude of pattern evidence forensic scientists encounter in their day to day work, who may report cases and testify in court? Readers are invited to speak to these issues.
Many years ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Crime Detection Laboratories1 sponsored a series of Seminars relating to forensic science and two of those events, RCMP Seminars 4 and 5, focused on forensic document examination; a.k.a., questioned document examination.
The first seminar, #4, was entitled “The Examination of Questioned Documents” and it was held May 10-11, 1956 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at R.C.M.P. Headquarters. In 1958, again in Ottawa and at the same location, seminar #5 was held Oct 27 through Nov 1. The second seminar was entitled “Questioned Documents in Crime Detection”. Both seminars were attended by several R.C.M.P. examiners and many invited guests from various laboratories around the world as well as several well-known private examiners. The event produced several interesting papers and each of the resulting books of proceedings included a photograph of attendees together with their names and affiliations. Each of the proceedings was published by the Federal Queen’s Printer, Ottawa, Canada.
A number of document examiners have asked about the photograph and attendees because often the photograph has been distributed without the accompanying attendee information.