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.
The abstract of my talk reads as follows:
A critical component in the adoption of a logical approach for evidence evaluation by forensic practitioners is expert-level knowledge and understanding of precisely how the approach can work within a given discipline of interest. Practitioners must develop an intimate and thorough understanding of why this approach is preferable, how it differs from whatever approach is traditionally used, and how they can explain the process in a court of law. At the same time, they must also be aware of limitations and concerns that exist when using this approach. The key to such understanding is education which, regrettably, appears to be an area where little effort has been made to date. The author believes that this is one of the main, though not the sole, reason why there has been only limited adoption of the approach. The discipline of forensic document examination (FDE) is arguably one of the more challenging to address given that this type of evidence is usually not quantified and requires a largely subjective evaluation process. The author has presented a number of workshops on this topic aimed at forensic document examiners, primarily from North American laboratories. These were 1 or 2-day workshops tailored to the FDE audience and focused entirely on problems and issues pertaining to that domain. This presentation will provide the author’s perspective on those workshops, both as a FDE practitioner and as an educator. It will outline the approach taken and discuss some of the challenges faced when working with already-trained examiners who do not generally understand this approach or see the need to make any change to their normal evaluation process. While the future of the logical approach for evidence evaluation is rather unclear at this time, at least in the North American context, a prognosis with recommendations for improving that future will be given.
Follow-up:The meeting was, as usual, an excellent event with many interesting papers presented.
Most of the papers are available online at www.icfis2014.org.
EDIT 2020.Dec.20: It appears that the papers are no longer available at that site. If I can find another online source I will update the link. In the meantime, I will provide a PDF of my presentation:
I enjoyed the session and felt that it provided a nice review of the ‘status quo’ letting people know what is happening in the global context — it’s always a good thing to know what your colleagues are doing. At the same time, I suspect that some in the audience may have been surprised by the variety of positions presented by the panel. When it comes to conclusion terminology the FDE community is not homogeneous by any means. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it may have been surprising to some people.
I was a little disappointed that there was no opportunity for real discussion or debate about some of the issues raised in the session; particularly for those things that challenge the accepted and ‘traditional’ approach to conclusions. I hope that future discussions will delve into those things a bit. Then we might start to address questions like “what should the FDE community be doing?” (that is, is there a single proper approach to this issue?) and, if so, “how might the FDE community get there?”
As time permits I hope to address on some of the topics and issues that came up during the discussion in other blog posts.