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What do forensic analysts consider relevant to their decision making?

Journal: Science & Justice
Published: 2019
Primary Author: Brett O. Gardner
Secondary Authors: Sharon Kelley, Daniel C. Murrie, Itiel E. Dror

In response to research demonstrating that irrelevant contextual information can bias forensic science analyses, authorities have increasingly urged laboratories to limit analysts’ access to irrelevant and potentially biasing information (Dror and Cole (2010) [3]; National Academy of Sciences (2009) [18]; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2016) [22]; UK Forensic Science Regulator (2015) [26]). However, a great challenge in implementing this reform is determining which information is task-relevant and which is task-irrelevant. In the current study, we surveyed 183 forensic analysts to examine what they consider relevant versus irrelevant in their forensic analyses. Results revealed that analysts generally do not regard information regarding the suspect or victim as essential to their analytic tasks. However, there was significant variability among analysts within and between disciplines. Findings suggest that forensic science disciplines need to agree on what they regard as task-relevant before context management procedures can be properly implemented. The lack of consensus about what is relevant information not only leaves room for biasing information, but also reveals foundational gaps in what analysts consider crucial in forensic decision making.

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