Science in the Courts!
With a passion for accuracy and reproducibility, analytical scientists are prime candidates for the witness stand. Presenting (often complex) scientific concepts to a jury comprised of laypeople is tough enough – but expert witnesses also have to keep their cool during intense cross examination by hostile lawyers. We speak to a psychologist and a forensic mass spec expert about the challenges of putting analytical science ‘on trial’ – and get a fascinating real-life story of a very unusual court case...
The Human Factor
William Thompson, Committee Chair of the OSAC Human Factors Committee, explains why the ‘human element’ is an important factor in forensic science testimony.
I study the underlying psychology or psychological dynamics of human decision making. For a long time, I’ve been interested in how experts – and especially forensic science experts – evaluate evidence and reach conclusions.
The human factor comes into forensics at two levels. In part, it’s the psychology of the expert; how they make decisions (and sometimes make mistakes). The second part is the psychology of communicating scientific findings – particularly, to a jury or to lawyers who may not have any expertise – in a way that allows them to understand and draw appropriate conclusions.
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