This year, the Australasian Experimental Psychology Conference was hosted by the University of Sydney. From the Expertise and Evidence Lab, Matt Thompson and Rachel Searston both presented some of their latest research. Matt presented: “The gist of a match: Fingerprint expert decision making in the blink of an eye”. In his study, Matt presented matching and non-matching fingerprints to experts and novices for only 250 milliseconds, and showed that fingerprint experts were able to, very quickly, decide whether the two presented fingerprints matched or not. His findings suggest that repeated training and exposure to different fingerprints enable experts to develop a fast and accurate method of categorisation. Rachel presented: “Identification expertise and family resemblance categorisation”. In her experiment, Rachel examined the ability of the fingerprint experts to categorise prints on the person basis as opposed to the specific prints. She presented experts with prints from five different fingers of a person’s hand, and asked whether or not the last print “matched” the other four different prints that came from the same person. She demonstrated that experts were able to accurately categorise prints on the basis of the family resemblance characteristics between the fingerprints of a person. Her findings suggest that the expertise of fingerprint examiners extends beyond simply matching the specific articulable features between prints. In June, Rachel, Matt, and Jason will be attending the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (SARMAC) Conference in Victoria BC.
On 27 May, our Flashed Face Distortion Effect was featured in the Brain Games program on the National Geographic Channel. Unfortunately, they disregarded the fact that the faces don’t need to be presented in the periphery for the effect to work (as we described in our paper), but it’s nice to see that people enjoy it.
The first practitioner-based UQ Forensic Reasoning Workshop was held at The University of Queensland on 25-26 March, and we welcomed Bruce Comber from The Australian Federal Police, Duncan McCarthy from the Queensland Police Service, Sophia Arulappu from the Victoria Police, Cameron Forsyth from New South Wales Police, and Gary Edmond from UNSW Law. Jason Tangen, Matthew Thompson, Rachel Searston, and Ruben Laukkonen from the Expertise & Evidence Lab presented some of their latest research, and we spent two days devising future experiments on expertise, discussing various training and recruitment practices across the states, and developing a contemporary model of expert testimony. We learned a great deal about the everyday operations of fingerprint bureaus, examiners’ workflow, and how expertise develops. We are looking forward to visiting each of the forensic branches across Australia in the coming months to test some of these ideas and discuss them further with other examiners.
Matthew Thompson presented at the 65th Anniversary Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences from 18-23 February in Washington, DC. The theme of the conference was “Founded on observation and experience, improved by education and research.” Matthew had meetings with Barry Scheck (co-founder Innocence Project), Michael Risinger (Professor of Law), and William Thompson (Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society and Psychology & Social Behavior and Law). His talk titled “Evidence for expertise in fingerprint identification and the ramifications for the future study of forensic expertise” was in the Criminalistics Stream, Fingerprint Identification and Analysis Session.
Thompson, M. B., Tangen, J. M., & McCarthy, D. J. (2013). Evidence for expertise in fingerprint identification and the ramifications for the future study of forensic expertise. American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) Annual Meeting. Washington, DC: 18-23 February, 2013. [PDF][Slides]
Jason Tangen and the rest of the Interdisciplinary Panel for Forensic Science met in Wollongong from 13-15 February to discuss approaches to the validation of forensic expertise and issues with the expression of expert testimony. Thanks to Gary Edmond who hosted the meeting and the other panel members: James Curran, Bryan Found, David Hamer, Brynn Hibbert, Richard Kemp, Kristy Martire, Geoff Morrison, Glenn Porter, Mehera San Roque, and Simon Walsh for three days of intensive debate and discussion.
Jason Tangen and Matthew Thompson attended at the the 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference in The Hague, the International City of Peace and Justice, The Netherlands. Jason presented a talk titled “Towards Evidence-Based Evidence The Forensic Reasoning Project,” and Matthew presented a talk titled “Evidence for Expertise in the Matching Performance of Human Fingerprint Examiners.” In addition to the scientific program, we enjoyed some time at the beach, dinner in a beautiful church, and a visit from Queen Beatrix.
We’ve just finished running experiments with fingerprint examiners at the Victoria and Australian Federal Police. Thanks so much to all those who participated. Below is a participant hooked up to an eye tracker that measures pupil dilation. It’s another tool in our arsenal for understanding the nature of forensic expertise.
Matthew Thompson spoke to a packed room at the 97th Annual Conference of the International Association for Identification in Phoenix, Arizona. He presented the results of an experiment on fingerprint expertise, the ramifications for the future study of forensic expertise, and the implications for expert testimony and public policy.
We’ve taken second place in the Best Illusion of the Year Contest, 2012 for our Flashed Face Distortion Effect. Matthew Thompson did an outstanding job at presenting the effect to a huge audience at the Contest Gala in Naples, Florida. Featured in Nature and New Scientist. Photo credit: Neural Correlate Society.
The Australian National Institute of Forensic Science and the Australian Fingerprint Scientific Working Group organised a workshop to discuss Errors in the fingerprint discipline: Definitions, implications and measures. Jason Tangen and Gary Edmond presented on the implications of recent empirical studies of fingerprint matching expertise, how to manage error in identification, and the expression of expert testimony. Thanks to Duncan McCarthy and Bruce Comber who chaired the event.
Jason Tangen spoke at a conference hosted by the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences: “Impressions & Expressions: Expert Evidence in Reports & Courts”. The conference brought together a wide range of speakers drawn from experts in law, medicine and science to explore current issues about forensic expert evidence in reports and courts. Thank you to Gary Edmond and others for organising such an important and timely discussion.
Jason Tangen spoke at a meeting of the Senior Managers of Australian and New Zealand Forensic Laboratories (SMANZFL). Joined by Prof Claude Roux and Carolyne Bird he spoke on, “To Provide Context or not to Provide Context – that is the question!” Jason’s take on the issue was that the question is an empirical one and that we need more and better research to find the answer, before making policy decisions.
The Forensic Reasoning Project has been successful in obtaining an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (LP120100063) based at The University of Queensland. The four year, $332,000 grant will help researchers and forensic experts understand the nature of expertise in identification to improve training and the value of expert testimony in the criminal justice system. Partner organisations include the Australian Federal Police, the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency National Institute of Forensic Science Australia, and the Queensland Police Service.
Our paper titled “Identifying Fingerprint Expertise” has been published in Psychological Science. We describe an experiment where we compare the fingerprint matching performance of experts and novices. We measured the benefit of expertise in matching fingerprints rather than accuracy per se. The difficulty is that no properly controlled experiments have been conducted on fingerprint examiners’ accuracy in identifying perpetrators, even though fingerprints have been used in criminal courts for more than 100 years. We tested fingerprint examiners at police stations across Australia: in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Federal Police in Canberra. We put examiners in a situation similar to their usual work, but we maintained tight experimental control by using simulated crime-scene prints and highly similar AFIS distractors in a signal detection paradigm.
We show that qualified, court-practicing fingerprint experts are exceedingly accurate compared with novices, but are not infallible. Our experts tended to err on the side of caution by making errors that would free the guilty rather than convict the innocent. They occasionally made the kind of error that can lead to false convictions.