Shining a Light on Forensic Black-Box Studies

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2023-06-29
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Khan, Kori
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© 2023 The Author(s)
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Carriquiry, Alicia
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StatisticsCenter for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence
Abstract
Forensic science plays a critical role in the United States criminal legal system. For decades, many feature-based fields of forensic science, such as firearm and toolmark identification, developed outside the scientific community’s purview. The results of these studies are widely relied on by judges nationwide. However, this reliance is misplaced. Black-box studies to date suffer from inappropriate sampling methods and high rates of missingness. Current black-box studies ignore both problems in arriving at the error rate estimates presented to courts. We explore the impact of each type of limitation using available data from black-box studies and court materials. We show that black-box studies rely on unrepresentative samples of examiners. Using a case study of a popular ballistics study, we find evidence that these nonrepresentative samples may commit fewer errors than the wider population from which they came. We also find evidence that the missingness in black-box studies is non-ignorable. Using data from a recent latent print study, we show that ignoring this missingness likely results in systematic underestimates of error rates. Finally, we offer concrete steps to overcome these limitations. Supplementary materials for this article areavailable online.
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This article is published as Kori Khan & Alicia L. Carriquiry (2023) Shining a Light on Forensic Black-Box Studies, Statistics and Public Policy, 10:1, DOI: 10.1080/2330443X.2023.2216748. Posted with permission of CSAFE.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.
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