ICFIS 2023

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.

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Science, experimentation, & forensic examination

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 this is a common challenge — does it involve any “science” at all?

As a result, this topic is worth some discussion.

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Science vs Pseudoscience

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.

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Human Factors in Forensic Handwriting Examination

EWGHFHE coverOne of the projects I had the pleasure to be involved in was the “Expert Working Group for Human Factors in Handwriting Examination”.  The WG was convened in 2015 to conduct a scientific assessment of the effects of Human Factors in Forensic Handwriting Examination, with the support of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences (OIFS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Programs Office.

It was a lengthy process involving a lot of people drawn from many different domains.  The authors of the report included Melissa K. Taylor, Carolyne Bird, Brett Bishop, Ted Burkes, Michael P. Caligiuri, Bryan Found, Wesley P. Grose, Lauren R. Logan, Kenneth E. Melson, Mara L. Merlino, Larry S. Miller, Linton Mohammed, Jonathan Morris, John Paul Osborn, Nikola Osborne, Brent Ostrum, Christopher P. Saunders, Scott A. Shappell, H. David Sheets, Sargur N. Srihari, Reinoud D. Stoel, Thomas W. Vastrick, Heather E. Waltke, and Emily J. Will. Read more

CSFS Position paper on the Logical Approach

I recently published an editorial in the Journal of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.  Two versions were published almost simultaneously (the original written in English and a translation in French) entitled, respectively, “CSFS Document Section Position on the Logical Approach to Evidence Evaluation and Corresponding Wording of Conclusions” and “La position de la Section des documents de la SCSJ sur l’approche logique de l’évaluation de la preuve et le libellé des conclusions”.

I wrote these in my capacity as the sitting chairman of the Documents section of the CSFS, on behalf of the members of that section.  The impetus for writing them was to introduce the “logical approach” and related topics to the Canadian forensic community in a ‘formal’ way (hopefully resulting in ongoing discussion) and to provide the public and the courts with the perspective of forensic practitioners who have reviewed the literature and studied this issue in depth. To that end, the document references many initiatives relating to the topic. I will note that it’s not a perfect document but it covers the main points reasonably well.

Please note that this position paper was first written a few years ago.  There was considerable delay in publication relating to the production of an acceptable French-language translation of the document. I must thank Julie Binette who was invaluable in that process. The delay, however, means the references provided in the paper are not fully up-to-date with the very latest developments in this area.

Nonetheless, that shortcoming doesn’t detract from the position expressed.  Today there is even more support and justification than is outlined in the paper. 

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David H. Kaye’s “Forensic Science, Statistics & the Law” Blog

David H. Kaye (DHK) is one of my favourite writers. He is truly prolific and always manages to provide great insights for the reader. His grasp of statistics, logic, and the law is second-to-none, and his ability to communicate those very challenging topics to his audience is equally impressive.

As a mini introduction, David “…is Distinguished Professor, and Weiss Family Scholar in the School of Law, a graduate faculty member of Penn State’s Forensic Science Program, and a Regents’ Professor Emeritus, ASU.” If you would like to see a list of his publications check out http://personal.psu.edu/dhk3/cv/cv_pubs.html 

Yes, DHK has written many things on many topics.1  But I would like to focus on his less formal writings from his blog  Forensic Science, Statistics & the Law.

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CSFS 2018 Conference

The Canadian Society of Forensic Science (CSFS) is holding its 2018 conference and AGM in Gatineau, QC. I’m happy about that because it’s in my own backyard, so to speak.

CSFS conferences vary in their quality and content but this year is looking pretty good.  For example,  the keynote speaker is Dr. Claude Roux whose presentation is entitled ‘Will Forensic Science Reach the End of the Crossroads Soon?’  That’s a tremendous question.  How would you answer it?  Dr. Roux is sure to have an interesting perspective to share with us.  Read more

Huber, Headrick & Bayes…

Like many document examiners I consider Huber and Headrick’s 1999 textbook, Handwriting Identification: Facts and Fundamentals, to be a seminal work.1

Huber and Headrick Handwriting IdentificationIn my opinion, it is the best textbook written to date on the topic of handwriting identification. The authors provide a comprehensive overview as well as some less conventional perspectives on certain concepts and topics.  In general I tend to agree with their position on many things. A bit of disclosure is need here: I was trained in the RCMP laboratory system; the same system in which Huber and Headrick were senior examiners and very influential.  Hence, I tend to be somewhat biased towards their point-of-view.

But that does not mean I think their textbook is perfect. While it is well written and manages to present a plethora of topics in reasonable depth, some parts are incomplete or misleading; particularly when we take developments that have happened since it was written into account.

One area of particular interest to me relates to the evaluation of evidence; specifically evaluation done using a coherent logical (or likelihood-ratio) approach.  I have posted elsewhere on the topic so I’m not going to re-hash the background or details any more than necessary.

Rev Bayes

This post will look at the topic of ‘Bayesian concepts’ as discussed by Huber and Headrick in their textbook.  These concepts fall under the general topic of statistical inference found in Chapter 4 “The Premises for the Identification of Handwriting”.  The sub-section of interest is #21 where the authors attempt to answer the question, “What Part Does Statistical Inference Play in the Identification Process?”  Much of their answer in that sub-section relates to Bayesian philosophy, in general, and the application of the logical approach to evidence evaluation.  However, while they introduce some things reasonably well, the discussion is ultimately very flawed and very much in need of correction. Or, at least, clarification.
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Propositions — key to the evaluation process

One of the key elements in the logical approach to evidence evaluation are the propositions used for the evaluation. They are, in a certain sense, the most important part of the whole process. At the same time, they are also one of the least understood.

Today’s post explores the concept of propositions. I will attempt to describe what they are, how they are used, why we don’t change them once set and why they matter so much, among other things… all from the perspective of forensic document examination (though also applicable to other forensic disciplines).

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