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Learning from Our Casework: The Forensic Anthropology Database for Assessing Methods Accuracy (FADAMA)

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2018, $267,117)

Forensic anthropological case analysis is based on the skeleton, which uses a combination of methods to generate descriptive information about an unidentified decedent, called the biological profile, and includes estimations of sex, race, age at death, and stature. The biological profile is then integrated into a case report, and assists the investigator in linking the unidentified decedent to potential missing persons matches. Currently, as a discipline, forensic anthropology cannot effectively validate methods error rates as applied to casework, as they are often validated in a research-specific context which differs greatly from the casework context. Thus, error rates associated with biological profile methods need to be established on actual casework.

To assess the method accuracies when applied to casework, systematic documentation of methods-based case assessments compared with positively identified case data is needed. The Forensic Anthropology Database for Assessing Methods Accuracy (FADAMA) was created in order to address this need in forensic anthropology. FADAMA is an online repository of method outcomes for actual casework. We propose to further develop FADAMA in order to address the persistent lack of adequate measures for assessing accuracy and reliability of methods applied to forensic casework. Specifically, we propose three Aims: 1) upgrading FADAMA to accommodate the integration of nuanced method data 2) to provide technical and personnel support for submitting cases to FADAMA, and 3) conducting research on the population FADAMA to establish accuracy rates for forensic anthropology case work and the methods used.

Aim 1 will be completed in Year 1, and includes working with a database specialist team for planning, developing, and testing FADAMA modifications. Aim 2 will be conducted during Years 1-3, and includes training of and sending a FADAMA technician to assist with case data submission and training at units with high-volume caseloads. For Aim 3 in Year 3, we will use the FADAMA data to study and establish casework context error rates for methods. We hypothesize, due to established impacts of cognitive bias in casework, that method error rates based on casework will differ from those produced in the research context, and that FADAMA-based error rates are a more authentic representation of the error rates for methods applied to casework. We will test for significant differences between research and FADAMA-based error rates using chi-square tests.

The final FADAMA interface will be an ongoing accessible tool for forensic anthropologists to continue documenting method use and accuracy trends as applied to casework.

This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14).


Date Created: September 27, 2018