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The Role of the Subjectivist Position in the Probabilization of Forensic Science
Journal of Forensic Science and Medicine
This paper is concerned with the contribution of forensic science to the legal process by helping reduce uncertainty. Although it is now widely accepted that uncertainty should be handled by probability because it is a safeguard against incoherent proceedings, there remain diverging and conflicting views on how probability ought to be interpreted. This is exemplified by the proposals in scientific literature that call for procedures of probability computation that are referred to as "objective," suggesting that scientists ought to use them in their reporting to recipients of expert information. I find such proposals objectionable. They need to be viewed cautiously, essentially because ensuing probabilistic statements can be perceived as making forensic science prescriptive. A motivating example from the context of forensic DNA analysis will be chosen to illustrate this. As a main point, it shall be argued that such constraining suggestions can be avoided by interpreting probability as a measure of personal belief, that is, subjective probability. Invoking references to foundational literature from mathematical statistics and philosophy of science, the discussion will explore the consequences of this interdisciplinary viewpoint for the practice of forensic expert reporting. It will be emphasized that-as an operational interpretation of probability-the subjectivist perspective enables forensic science to add value to the legal process, in particular by avoiding inferential impasses to which other interpretations of probability may lead. Moreover, understanding probability from a subjective perspective can encourage participants in the legal process to take on more responsibility in matters regarding the coherent handling of uncertainty. This would assure more balanced interactions at the interface between science and the law. This, in turn, provides support for ongoing developments that can be called the "probabilization" of forensic science.
Forensic science, legal process, subjective probability, uncertainty reduction
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