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Perceived strength of forensic scientists’ reporting statements about source conclusions

Journal: Law, Probability & Risk
Published: 2018
Primary Author: William C. Thompson
Secondary Authors: Rebecca Hofstein Grady, Eria Lai, Hal S. Stern

Three studies investigated lay people’s perceptions of the relative strength of various conclusions that a forensic scientist might present about whether two items (fingerprints, biological samples) have a common source. Lay participants made a series of judgments about which of two conclusions seemed stronger for proving the items had a common source. The data were fitted to Thurstone–Mosteller paired comparison models to obtain rank-ordered lists of the various statements and an indication of the perceived differences among them. The results reveal the perceived strength of several types of statements, relative to one another, including verbal statements regarding strength of support (e.g. ‘extremely strong support for same source’), source probability statements (e.g. ‘highly probable same source’), random match probabilities (e.g. RMP = 1 in 100 000), likelihood ratios, and categorical statements (e.g. ‘identification’). These comparisons in turn provide insight into whether particular statements about the strength of forensic evidence convey the intended meaning and will be interpreted in a manner that is justifiable and appropriate.

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