The Critical Role of Statistics in Development and Validation of Forensic Methods

University of Virginia

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 3:30pm

Statistics has played a key role in the development and validation of forensic methods, as well as in the inferences (conclusions) obtained from forensic evidence.  Further, statisticians have been important contributors to many areas of science, such as chemistry (chemometrics), biology (genomics), medicine (clinical trials), and agriculture (crop yield), leading to valuable advances that extend to multiple fields (spectral analysis, penalized regression, sequential analysis, experimental design).  The involvement of statistics specifically in forensic science has demonstrated its value in the development of DNA "fingerprinting," assessment of bullet lead evidence, the significance of the findings in the U.S. anthrax investigations, and in assessing the reliability of eyewitness identification. I will discuss the statistical issues involved in these four situations and then suggest ways in which statisticians can use their expertise to strengthen forensic evidence (experimental design, estimating error rates, developing other approaches based on less subjective interpretations, etc.), thereby raising the level of confidence in the forensic system.