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Liberties and constraints of the normative approach to evaluation and decision in forensic science: a discussion towards overcoming some common misconceptions
Law, Probability & Risk
At a time when disciplined inference and decision making under uncertainty represent common aims to participants in legal proceedings, the scientific community is remarkably heterogenous in its attitudes as to how these goals ought to be achieved. Probability and decision theory exert a considerable influence, and we think by all reason rightly do so, but they go against a mainstream of thinking that does not embrace-or is not aware of-the 'normative' character of this body of theory. It is normative, in the sense understood in this article, in that it prescribes particular properties, typically (logical) coherence, to which reasoning and decision making ought to conform. Disregarding these properties can result in diverging views which are occasionally used as an argument against the theory, or as a pretext for not following it. Typical examples are objections according to which people, both in everyday life but also individuals involved at various levels in the judicial process, find the theory difficult to understand and to apply. A further objection is that the theory does not reflect how people actually behave. This article aims to point out in what sense these examples misinterpret the analytical framework in its normative perspective. Through examples borrowed mostly from forensic science contexts, it is argued that so-called intuitive scientific attitudes are particularly liable to such misconceptions. These attitudes are contrasted with a statement of the actual liberties and constraints of probability and decision theory and the view according to which this theory is normative.
probability theory, decision theory, forensic science, normative approach
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