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Confirmation bias: A Study of biasability within Forensic anthropological visual assessments on skeletal remains

21 March 2013

Sherry Nakhaeizadeh

The potential for bias in forensic science is increasingly being demonstrated, with recent studies on the issues around cognitive processes and biasability with a main focus on DNA, ballistics and fingerprints disciplines. The National Academy of Science NAS report, “A path forward” has highlighted this issue suggesting practitioners in disciplines working in the forensic sphere relying on human interpretation may be prone to error or bias. The report notes empirical research supports evidence of the effects in some disciplines, and research indicates that human error due to cognitive patterns can influence and cause forensic experts to lose their objectivity. In many disciplines such as Forensic anthropology the presence of bias, its impact, and how to mitigate its effects are still not fully assessed or appreciated, with limited research has been conducted to test the impartial judgment of the anthropologist within visual methodologies. The anthropological methods are acknowledged for being highly limited because of their subjective nature, hence for the area is in need for further research. How can we examine for bias in forensic biological anthropological profiling and thus avoid such errors that might arise from it?