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Training & Education Projects

Overarching GOALS

The CSAFE team is committed to training and education for a wide range of forensic science stakeholders, including forensic practitioners and law enforcement, lawyers and judges, statisticians and measurement scientists, students of all levels (from pre-college through postgraduate), and the public. Through a new partnership with West Virginia University, we continue to develop courses and curricula on probability and statistics for undergraduate and graduate forensic science students.

Alicia Carriquiry

Alicia Carriquiry

Distinguished Professor & Director of CSAFE

Iowa State University

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Hal Stern

Vice Provost for Academic Planning & Co-Director of CSAFE

University of California, Irvine

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Brandon Garrett

L. Neil Williams Professor of Law & Co-Director of CSAFE

Duke University

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Robin Mejia

Director, Program in Statistics and Human Rights & Co-Director of CSAFE

Carnegie Mellon University

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Keith Morris

Ming Hsieh Distinguished Teaching Professor of Forensic & Investigative Science & Co-Director of CSAFE

West Virginia University

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Jeffrey Holt

Professor

University of Virginia

Other Contributors

Casper Venter
Casper.Venter@mail.wvu.edu

Nita Farahany
farahany@duke.edu

Robert Ramotowski (NIST)
robert.ramotowski@nist.gov

Karen Kafadar
kkafadar@virginia.edu

Kate Philpott 

focus Areas

CSAFE researchers develop several mechanisms that provide education and training to forensic practitioners in crime laboratories and other forensic science providers. These include publicly available webinars (6-8 per year) that report on new research results and key issues in the field, and workshops offered at laboratories and conferences focused on probability and statistics tools for the analysis, interpretation and presentation of forensic evidence.

The forensic science community is actively engaged in research (e.g., black box studies) to assess the status of analysis evidence in various pattern disciplines (e.g., handwriting, shoeprints) and is also working to develop standards and guidelines for presenting interpretations and opinions regarding forensic evidence. In addition, research by CSAFE and other investigators is exploring new approaches to the analysis of forensic evidence. All of these activities suggest that increased awareness of key concepts from statistics and probability are critically important for forensic stakeholders including forensic science practitioners. During its initial funding period CSAFE has developed training materials and offered seminars, webinars and workshops that attempt to address this need. It is important that we continue and expand these activities in CSAFE 2.0. 

The original workshop that was developed was a full-day workshop consisting of introductory material on probability and statistics followed by more detailed discussion of the various approaches to the analysis of forensic evidence (and the associated statistical issues). This material has been presented at a number of forensic laboratories and forensic conferences. In performing these workshops, we have identified a number of needs moving forward. One is the ability to deliver the material in a variety of lengths. For example, a 60-minute version was offered during one of the in-person OSAC meetings. In addition, it would clearly be valuable to offer the material through a series of webinars. Though not as good as in-person training, webinars can provide broader coverage. A final identified need is for trainings that address specific disciplines, especially discipline-specific results and research. This project is intended to address these identified needs.

CSAFE provides educational programs that target a large portion of the legal community, including coursework piloted at the University of Virginia and Duke University for law students; boot camps aimed at teaching practicing lawyers how to interact with forensic examiners; case-based workshops aimed at conveying probability and statistics concepts to lawyers and judges; and conferences that bring together lawyers, statisticians, and forensic practitioners. CSAFE also has created continuing legal education (CLE) materials and approaches and have presented at CLE programs across the country. Additionally our efforts are aimed at developing trainings, model policies, and procedures for prosecutors’ offices, police, and crime laboratories.

The goal of this project has been to design innovative educational programs to reach both law students and practicing lawyers, and connect them with forensic industry practices and professionals. We designed and disseminated curricula and course materials widely. We developed a novel mock trial “boot camp” for lawyers on forensics, in which they prepare and question a fingerprint examiner on the stand during a day-long trial. We convene forensic science seminars, for law students who write upper-level research papers, but also to bring together researchers and CSAFE collaborators. We have convened a CSAFE forensics, statistics and law conference, which has resulted in publications, and an interdisciplinary conversation between lawyers, judges, crime lab leadership, statisticians, psychologists, law professors and researchers across disciplines.  We offer a unit on forensic science in the May judicial education program run by the Bolch Judicial Institute at Duke Law School, which convenes judges from around the country for high level discussions and training. A wide range of continuing legal education offerings have been provided as part of this project as well, to lawyers at the state and federal level. Each March this project assists with an all-day intensive forensic science training program for lawyers at Duke Law. We have published in law reviews, most accessible to lawyers, including by creating archives of judicial rulings on forensic science, to create resources for prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. Our goal for CSAFE 2.0 is to expand this work, including by providing training with more informative materials, and by creating online legal repositories for both legal practitioners and forensic practitioners.

CSAFE in partnership with West Virginia University is developing appropriate statistics coursework for its master’s and Ph.D. students in forensic science. The materials developed will be made available to programs across the United States.

Forensic science professionals working in laboratories, in academia or in other positions are increasingly expected to understand statistical ideas and how they relate to forensic problems. Advanced concepts including likelihood ratios and Bayes factors, arise in the literature with increased frequency, yet most instructors in graduate programs in forensic science do not train their students in these areas.

Most graduate programs in forensic science require some training in statistics and mathematics, but this requirement is typically met by taking general-purpose courses in the statistics or mathematics departments. These courses provide a good introduction to standard statistical methods, but because they are designed to serve students from a wide range of disciplines they cannot be expected to cover topics that are relevant to forensic scientists almost exclusively.

We propose that MSc and PhD students in forensic sciences should be exposed to an additional course that relies on basic statistical and mathematical knowledge but focuses on topics that are relevant in forensic practice and research. The course we propose will be developed via a collaboration between three CSAFE partner institutions, but with input from the other sites, and will be offered first to the students enrolled in the graduate forensic science program in West Virginia University. Once the course has been offered at least twice at WVU, it will be revised using what we have learned from the WVU experience and will be made available online to any other program who wishes to adopt it.

CSAFE continues to develop courses aimed at teaching criminology students about probability and statistics tools for analysis of forensic evidence (Simon Cole at UCI and Maria Cuellar at Penn) and statistics students about the problems arising in criminology and forensic science (Jeff Holt at UVA). In addition, the partnership with West Virginia University provides an opportunity to test the existing material with a cohort of forensic science students and modify as necessary to ensure that it is useful in that context.

This project will focus on developing course materials for use in undergraduate courses on forensic science and statistics, piloting course materials at the University of Virginia and disseminating the materials for use at other institutions. The University of Virginia courses will be targeted at students majoring in statistics as well as students with limited prior exposure to statistics. After materials have been refined and piloted at UVA we plan to identify a site to pilot the materials in a course for forensic science practitioners and students.

CSAFE offers summer programs similar to those funded by the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduate Programs. Undergraduate students in statistics and other quantitative areas are invited to spend two summer months carrying out research in statistics for forensic applications.

Forensic questions tend to be multidisciplinary with answers requiring contributions by scientists in different disciplines working together. This is one aspect of forensic practice that popular shows such as CSI have represented realistically. The popularity of those shows has spiked interest among undergraduates pursuing a variety of majors who are choosing a career in forensic practice.

During the initial funding period, students in statistics and other quantitative areas were invited to spend two summer months in Iowa State or Carnegie Mellon to learn about statistics relevant in forensic practice. Many of the students in the summer programs came from CSAFE’s minority partner institutions. The summer program was well received; students and their advisors have provided positive reports and have expressed an interest for these programs to continue.

We plan to expand the summer program to include one or two month long internships of students in collaborating crime labs. The program will offer students two options for summer research, funded by CSAFE: (1) spend two months in Iowa State or West Virginia or (2) spend two months at a crime lab, or combine both. The idea is to provide the students with a taste of research (at a partner institution) or practice (at a participating lab).

Knowledge transfer

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CSAFE 2020 All Hands Meeting

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The 2020 All Hands Meeting was held May 12 and 13, 2020 and served as the closing to the last 5 years of CSAFE research and focused on kicking off new initiatives for the next phase of the center, CSAFE…


Statistical Thinking for Forensic Practitioners

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Published: 2019 | By: Hal Stern

The field of statistics is concerned with the collection, display, analysis, interpretation, and reporting of quantitative data. Statistics has emerged as a critical topic in ongoing discussions regarding the practice of forensic science. The workshop provides an overview of probability…

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Statistics and the Fair Administration of Justice

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Published: 2019 | By: Hal Stern

Statistics has emerged as a critical topic in ongoing discussions regarding the practice of forensic science. A 2009 National Academies report on forensic science and a subsequent 2016 report by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology raised…

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How Jurors Evaluate Fingerprint Evidence

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This CSAFE Center Wide webinar was presented on April 2, 2019 by Brandon Garrett, CSAFE researcher and the L. Neil Williams Professor of Law at Duke University. Brandon Garrett has provided presentation slides. If you should require a certificate for…


Probabilistic Reporting in American Criminal Cases: A Baseline Study

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This CSAFE Center Wide webinar was presented on November 28, 2018 by Dr. Simon Cole, Dr. Simon Cole, CSAFE researcher and professor of criminology, law and society at University of California, Irvine. Dr. Cole has provided presentation slides.   Presentation…


Forensic Pattern Recognition Evidence-An Educational Module

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This learning module (and associated instructor's guide) was developed by CSAFE researcher and criminology, law, and society professor from University of California, Irvine Dr. Simon Cole.   The educational opportunity uses latent print identification as a case study of the broader…


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