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All Talk and No Conversation? Methodological Preconditions of An Interdisciplinary Forensic Science

Presented by: 
Paul Roberts University of Nottingham
Thursday 1st September 2016 - 10:30 to 11:00
INI Seminar Room 1
Ten years ago I wrote a paper titled ‘Can we Talk?’, drawing attention to the importance of promoting more effective interdisciplinary communication between lawyers and scientists in the area of forensic science. The argument was addressed to practitioners as well as to scholars concerned with the administration of criminal justice. Since that time, there have been repeated efforts and numerous enterprising projects to bring scientists (of various kinds) and criminal justice scholars and professionals together to facilitate interdisciplinary communication about forensic science, several of which I have participated in myself. These occasions are always enlightening and instructive, but often also frustrating. Talking to or at or over is the not the same as talking with. A cacophony is not a conversation. Nor is to talking to yourself.  
  Part of the problem, to be sure, is that not everybody is sold on the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration in forensic science. There are income streams, professional self-identifies and disciplinary turf to defend. But growing ranks of practitioners and scholars appreciate the value, and even the necessity, of interdisciplinary cooperation in forensic science theory and practice. Exploring ‘the nature of questions arising in court that can be addressed via probability and statistical methods’ is evidently intended to contribute to an interdisciplinary ‘forensic science’, in the broad sense in which I understand that designation of field. For those well-motivated to contribute to interdisciplinary communication, the barriers to successful collaboration are primarily cognitive and methodological.  
  Interdisciplinarity, in forensic science or anything else, is hard to do well, much harder than one might initially imagine. Interdisciplinary communication is not merely a matter of sharing information, but rather of crossing between different professional and practical life-worlds constituted by their own peculiar set of objectives, values, methods, technology, discourses, institutions and cultures. A didactic model of communication is not well-suited to interdisciplinary collaboration, nor is a simplistic model of scientific research according to which the exposure and correction of errors by superior logic or data must – sooner or later – force consensus. A genuinely interdisciplinary forensic science must be a collaborative co-construction, generating new forms of knowledge, practical techniques and policy interventions (including law reform). To advance this project requires real conversation between knowledgeable, well-motivated and reflective experts across a range of pertinent disciplines, not just more talk. As a contribution to translating talk into conversation, this paper identifies some methodological preconditions for a genuinely interdisciplinary forensic science, with illustrations drawn from recent cases in which English courts have found themselves grappling with probability and/or statistics.  

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University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons