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NSF co-funded project - Sex Estimation in Forensic Anthropology: Taking a Legally-lnformed Approach to Method Development

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $100,000)

The goal of forensic anthropology is to assist in medicolegal investigations, typically involving decomposed or skeletal remains. When the remains belong to an unidentified decedent, the first step is to construct a “biological profile,” in which the estimation of sex is a crucial component. Accuracy in sex estimation increases when both metric (e.g., the length of a bone) and morphological (e.g., the shape of a bone) data are used and when multiple skeletal elements are assessed. However, there are no methods that meet both of these criteria, leaving forensic anthropologists to combine disparate methods in statistically invalid ways. As part of medicolegal investigations, forensic anthropologists are often called upon to testify in criminal proceedings and provide expert evidence. Using statistically questionable methods leaves this type of evidence vulnerable to admissibility challenges. These admissibility challenges examine multiple facets of the scientific methods used by the expert, yet methods for sex estimation are not developed with this legal framework in mind. Further, the field of forensic anthropology lacks an assessment of how sex estimation methods have been evaluated within admissibility challenges, resulting in little guidance on which methods forensic anthropologists should use and how to develop new methods. Therefore, the objective of this research proposal is to combine legal and forensic anthropology practitioner perspectives in order to guide the development of a new method for sex estimation.

Date Created: March 20, 2023