"The questions of forensic science: The five W +H (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) or the 7 questions of Quintilianus revisited (Quis, Quid, Ubi, Quibus auxiliis, Cur, Quomodo, Quando)»
Panel – Sheila Willis, Michelle D. Miranda, Doug Lucas, Peter de Forest, Claude Roux, Frank Crispino, Pierre Margot
Panel members are presenting papers in other sessions that develop issues related to this topic (science vs junk science, Lucas; Intelligence, Crispino, Roux, Ribaux; Accreditation and certification of processes, Crispino and Roux; invited presentation, Roux; operational laboratory product, Willis; education de Forest, Margot). Participants may wish to follow those and come with questions!
In a time of crises (NRC report, closure of the Forensic Science Service in the UK, discussions about error management, focussing on processes, etc), this panel intends to revisit the fundamentals of forensic science. Faced with a passed event and the time asymmetry of causation (Cleland, 2001), it is impossible to test what happened in a controlled laboratory environment. It is only possible to reconstruct the past based on reliable (physical data) or less reliable information (such as witness statements) and by logical treatment of all the collected information. The questions that were raised in the Antiquity allegedly by Quintilianus are there to remind us that questions can be set to address hypotheses or propositions in a systematic and exhaustive manner.
Quis ?, Who ? relates to the identity, which seems to be the only and ultimate question for many (fingerprints, DNA, chemical identity, specificity).
Quid ? What ? relates to the crime question. Is it a crime? and what type of crime ?
Ubi ? Where ? relates to the extension of the crime scene, but also to the contacts that may arise from the crime definition (what)
Quibus auxiliis ? with what means ? Use of force, situational decisions taken by the authors of the crime.
Cur ? Why ? this relates to the mobile of the crime (allegations, rational decision by criminals to use an un-protected target)
Quomodo ? How ? relates to the modus operandi and completes the critical appraisal of What and with what means.
Quando ? When ? this is the essential historical issue of time and sequence.
One can see that all of these questions have an impact on different phases of an investigation or inquiry.
Faced with a complaint, a denunciation, a crime, the first phase is one of diagnosis, supported by documentation, that help direct the attention to propositions that may be tested by directing to the detection of relevant remnants or traces that these propositions imply, precisely located on the documentation. With forensic intelligence the detection may be directed to specific traces knowing that there is an on-going crime series (as in epidemiology). The detection can be coupled to « scene of crime » technologies that may help focus on the most relevant items. Incoherence, absence of traces should incite a revision of the diagnosis or of propositions to direct further searches.
This is completed by the collection and preservation of items for further analyses, if needed, often in specialised laboratories. The documentation indicates the relevance, the position, the inter-relation between items. Most of the focus worldwide is directed to this lab based phase thinking that the analyses are purely technical whereas they should be considered in a logical analytical framework. Should we analyse to singularise (identify) (Who? By what means?) or to detect similarities for efficient database or intelligent searches (Why, when, how?), or to provide an information on activity (activity level propositions (circumstances – Where, when and how?). This may direct chemical, physical or biological analyses towards more or less selective and more or less sensitive technical approaches.
Throughout, communications with other parties involved in the investigation should help decide on where to focus on the most relevant issues which may mean that some items are not further analysed, whereas others are analysed differently. Intermediate reports of different natures can feed the intelligence process, the investigative process as well as give some definitive answers (source of a stain by DNA, fingerprint, alcohol/drug level). This is all truly context oriented and leading the analyses to test the case as it is being reconstructed. None of this should be focussed on the issue (the causality), but what information is there, if a given causality is right or wrong.
The final phase may be reporting for court purposes (for a very small minority of cases) and this should be transparent, balanced and focussed on the data and their meaning given the causalities as they are stated or perceived.
After brief introductory presentations, the panel will include an extensive and interactive Q&A session.
CLELAND, C. E. 2001. Historical Science, Experimental Science, and the Scientific Method. Geology, 29, 987-990.
- science in forensic science
- problem solving as the underlying role of forensic science
- being critical towards the technological race as opposed to the knowledge and reasoning processes involved in forensic science