Many forensic science procedures in regular use were developed by non-scientists, are devoid of underlying research and have never been formally evaluated. Even procedures with mainstream scientific foundations are often practiced in ways that are insufficiently attentive to the constraints of validation studies, standards, the effects of human factors and other limitations. In consequence, investigators and courts in Australia and around the world routinely rely upon forensic science evidence that is either of unknown probative value or less reliable than it could be. Moreover, these serious limitations are not necessarily disclosed, identified or understood by those presenting, evaluating and reviewing forensic science evidence in criminal trials and appeals. The Evidence Based Forensic Initiative is a multi-disciplinary group of scholars and practitioners interested in improving this state of affairs.
We are engaged in collective efforts to:
- Evaluate current procedures and practices;
- Enhance the evidence base for the forensic sciences;
- Improve the way forensic science evidence is presented in reports and courtrooms;
- Improve the sensitivity of forensic scientists, lawyers and judges to the kinds of concerns that encourage forensic practitioners to be more attentive to validation, reliability, expression, human factors, and standards; and
- Encourage courts, in their legal rules and practice, to embrace the kinds of criteria used by scientists to understand and evaluate expertise.
Undertake validation studies to ascertain the value of prominent forensic science techniques and the limits and measures of human performance.
Enhance our understanding of the role of human factors in the practice of forensic science and the evaluation of evidence. This will involve strategic research in human decision-making to better understand the sources of human error in the forensic sciences.
Develop protocols and maintain a repository of scientific research on the most commonly used forensic science techniques (e.g. DNA profiling, fingerprints, ballistics, image analysis, blood spatter), and to make these resources available to forensic scientists, investigators, lawyers, and courts.
Undertake a systematic review of forensic science errors, and wrongful convictions linked to the forensic sciences, in order to reform forensic science practice and improve the reception and understanding of forensic science evidence.
Determine, through experimentation, the most effective ways of expressing expert findings in reports and testimony in order to enhance comprehension by investigators and fact-finders (e.g. jurors and judges).
Establish formal links between forensic scientists and academic researchers in related disciplines to help foster an active research culture within the forensic sciences.
Undertake systematic studies of legal institutions and their use of forensic science evidence in decisions to prosecute, plea bargains, legal proceedings and appeals.
Develop evidence based policy, standards, and practice guides—for forensic scientists, police, lawyers and courts.
Develop and implement an evidence-based training program for forensic scientists, lawyers, and judges on judgment and decision-making, cognitive science, methodology, and statistics (e.g., heuristics and biases, research methods, framing, experimental design, base rates, levels of analysis, etc.). This will include training forensic scientists to undertake validation studies in collaboration with academic partners.