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Assessing Cognitive Bias, Method Validation, and Equipment Performance for the Forensic Anthropology Laboratory

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2018
12 pages
This project's objective was to improve the examination and interpretation of physical evidence in forensic anthropology laboratories by improving method validation and equipment performance check procedures related to specific analyses, as well as to identify where and how cognitive bias impacts forensic anthropological analyses and how to mitigate potential sources of bias.

As an accredited laboratory, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (HCIFS) Forensic Anthropology Division (FAD) in Houston, Texas, recognized the need to demonstrate that methods and equipment being used are working properly in their laboratory and that personnel are properly trained and qualified to use such method and equipment. Such internal testing and documentation ensure accountability and transparency, indicating that methods, procedures, equipment, and staff have been critically assessed. The project design and methods are described in this report. They pertain to project assessment and initial training; validation and performance measures; cognitive bias assessment; and information consolidation, manuscript development, and implementation. Data analysis is also described. This project benefits the forensic and criminal justice communities, particularly forensic anthropology, by identifying best practices to mitigate potential issues regarding method error and bias. Due to the paucity of anthropology laboratories based within a medical examiner system, the sources of error and biases that can affect case analyses have not been sufficiently examined. At both the laboratory and judicial levels, the implications of having an effective quality assurance program for forensic anthropology are significant.

Date Published: December 1, 2018