Thursday, June 16, 2011

Junk Criminology as Pseudo-Science

Writing about the so-called "CSI Effect" Gregg Barack, Young Kim, and Donald Shelton focused on jurors.  Among the many challenging discoveries of their statistically valid investigation was the fact that less-educated people demand more physical evidence. The "CSI Effect" also runs strongly within professional criminal justice. 

Since the declaration of scientific criminology in the 19th century, police and prosecutors have sought out empirical evidence, relying on what were then new sciences such as  chemistry.  Cesare Lombroso claimed that scientific measurements could identify congenital  criminals. Dactylography (fingerprinting), graphology (handwriting analysis), polygraphs (lie detectors), and psychological profiling, were joined by laboratory analysis of fibers, hair, tissue, cloth, paper, ink, tire treads, shoe prints, typewriter keys, and just about everything else.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes in the Strand Magazine became the public's model detective.  Not a mere rationalist Holmes's theories began with empirical evidence.  He studied cigar ashes. In his day, the electron was a theory.  Fifty years later high school students accepted it as basic knowledge.  Today, surgeons are guided by images created by positrons, the anti-matter analog of the electron.  Humans have been to the Moon; our cellphones depend on satellites.  We clone animals and  genetically modify vegetables.  It is not surprising that through this century, empirical evidence from the police laboratory is expected to reveal and convict perpetrators.  But not all science fiction becomes science fact. 

Shoe prints, tire prints, fiber analysis, hair analysis, handwriting analysis, and even fingerprints, all  lack scientific validation.  Scientific truths are statistically valid, large sample, peer-reviewed reports tested by double-blind experiments, explained by coherent theory for which there exists a standard of falsifiability.  The scientific method can be explained as three steps or 14, but it is always the creation and testing of a hypothesis by empirical methods.  A scientific truth is both rational (logically consistent) and empirical (known by perception).  

In the United States, the "Daubert Standard" amplifies and reinforces the Federal Rules of Evidence.  Flooded with expert witnesses in complicated civil and criminal cases, the courts needed a method for differentiating accomplished researchers in esoteric fields from charlatans.  It is bad enough that among the general public those who are less educated expect evidence that they are not equipped to evaluate.  The "CSI Effect" also runs strongly within the profession of criminal justice.  

 The "Criminology and Justice" blog (here) formed by European professionals centered on the Balearic Criminological Society has a recent series of "CSI" articles.  The latest touts the forensic efficacy of shoe prints.  Another is about the value of the forensic sketch artist.  It is true that a complete matrix of evidence can place the perpetrator with the victim at the time of the event.  It is also true that there exists no scientifically valid database of shoe prints; and police sketches of alleged assailants have been elements in wrongful convictions. These professional criminologists cannot differentiate rational-empirical methodology from pseudo-science.  And that is a crime.

The CSI Effect: A Bibliography
(Note that so far only the works of Shelton, Kim and Barack are statistically valid, applying appropriate mathematics to a large sample population.  Many other reports,  while informative, are largely anecdotal.)
  • “The CSI effect reconsidered: is it moderated by need for cognition?” Dante E. Mancini, North American Journal of Psychology 13.1 (March 2011): p.155.
  • “Examining the ‘CSI-effect’ in the cases of circumstantial evidence and eyewitness testimony: Multivariate and path analyses,” Young S. Kim,  Gregg Barak, Donald E. Shelton; Journal of Criminal Justice 37 (2009) 452–460
  • “An Indirect-Effects Model of Mediated Adjudication: The CSI Myth, the Tech Effect, and Metropolitan Jurors' Expectations for Scientific Evidence,” Hon. Donald E. Shelton, Young S. Kim, and Gregg Barak, Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, Volume 12 Fall 2009 Number 1.
  • "The 'CSI Effect': Does It Really Exist?" Donald E. Shelton, National Institute of Justice Journal 259. (17 March 2008)
  • “A Study of Juror Expectations and Demands Concerning Scientific Evidence: Does a 'CSI Effect' Exist?” Donald E. Shelton, Young S. Kim, Gregg Barak, Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law Vol 9 No 2
  • “The CSI effect: legitimate concern or popular myth?” Catherine M. Guthrie, Prosecutor, Journal of the National District Attorneys Association, Vol 41 No. 4 (July-August 2007): p.14
  • “The CSI Effect,” Richard Jones and Arthur Bangert,  Science Scope (Nov 2006): p.38.

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