New Paper Published on Cognitive Bias

March 15, 2021 — A new paper has been published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences titled "Cognitive Bias in Forensic Pathology Decisions". The full article is available via open access online.

From the abstract:

Forensic pathologists’ decisions are critical in police investigations and court proceedings as they determine whether an unnatural death of a young child was an accident or homicide. Does cognitive bias affect forensic pathologists’ decision‐making? To address this question, we examined all death certificates issued during a 10‐year period in the State of Nevada in the United States for children under the age of six. We also conducted an experiment with 133 forensic pathologists in which we tested whether knowledge of irrelevant non‐medical information that should have no bearing on forensic pathologists’ decisions influenced their manner of death determinations. The dataset of death certificates indicated that forensic pathologists were more likely to rule "homicide" rather than "accident" for deaths of Black children relative to White children. This may arise because the base‐rate expectation creates an a priori cognitive bias to rule that Black children died as a result of homicide, which then perpetuates itself. Corroborating this explanation, the experimental data with the 133 forensic pathologists exhibited biased decisions when given identical medical information but different irrelevant non‐medical information about the race of the child and who was the caregiver who brought them to the hospital. These findings together demonstrate how extraneous information can result in cognitive bias in forensic pathology decision‐making.

The paper is authored by Itiel Dror PhD, Judy Melinek MD, Jonathan L. Arden MD, Jeff Kukucka PhD, Sarah Hawkins JD, Joye Carter MD, PhD, and Daniel S. Atherton MD. You can read it here.

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Court Case Update

FINGERPRINT EVIDENCE went through a nearly three-year ordeal in the New Hampshire court system, but eventually emerged unscathed. On April 4, 2008, the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision of a lower court to exclude expert testimony regarding fingerprint evidence in the case of The State of New Hampshire v. Richard Langill. The case has been remanded back to the Rockingham County Superior Court.