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Monday, December 10, 2001

Good morning via the "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets latent print examiners around the globe every Monday morning. The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important events as they happen in our field.

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...

You have GOT to check this out!, perhaps even in person.   (Atlanta in February shouldn't be too bad)  I am considering attending myself, and will post transcripts of these two lectures on this site, if possible.

Last week we introduced a topic that has turned out to be a more difficult topic to articulate than prevously thought; non-friction ridge skin identification.  As you read last week, Dr. Moenssens was slated to bring us his thoughts on the status of lip print identification today.  As he sat down to articulate his thoughts, it turned into a much larger than anticipated 7-section article on non-friction ridge skin identification in general, and won't be completed until late January or February.  In the mean time, we will turn our attention to several other related topics to begin to lay the ground work to fully address this concept when we get there.  This week, John Vanderkolk takes us a step toward the bigger picture, and relates to us some foundational concepts regarding uniqueness in nature, only a part of which is biological uniqueness.

Uniqueness in Nature
by John Vanderkolk

I read Kasey’s ‘Detail’ of December 3rd, found myself in support of it, and would like to carry it a bit further.  Kasey speaks of biological uniqueness.  I believe and support this belief in biological uniqueness as can be documented in animal muzzle print and elbow print individualizations that have occurred in my laboratory.  I have studied muzzle prints for years and was willing to receive, assign and verify an elbow print examination in an active criminal investigation.  When sheep were first being cloned in Scotland, I was encouraged by some of my forensic science colleagues to visit the sheep and muzzle print them.  I never planned on getting around to it because I am confident they are unique.  I figured somebody else would, which happened.  They found that each clone had a unique muzzle.  No surprises. 

 I believe biology is a part of nature.  Nature is the sum total of anything that naturally occurs in the universe.  There is much more to nature than biology.  I have been taught structures and formations in nature are unique.  Nobody has ever disproved that teaching or belief.  Nature is unique; therefore, biology is unique; therefore, people are unique; therefore, friction ridge, elbow, lip, knuckle, wrist, ear, etc., skin is unique. The natural parts that make up unique nature will all be unique in their own structural forms and features. 

 I have also often heard that no two snowflakes, or ice crystals, are alike.  I have enjoyed viewing enlarged photographs of ice crystals.  Not only are they different, but each of the sections within the same crystal are unique.  I have also heard no two grains of sand are alike.  I have no reason to doubt that.  There is only one Grand Canyon, one Colorado River, and many unique rocks that sit on the bottom of that river.  The tree line that I view on the horizon as I drive home is unique.  Each tree that makes up a part of that tree line is unique.  Each branch of that tree is unique.  Each part of that tree’s bark is unique.  Each leaf on that tree is unique.  Each structure on that leaf is unique.

 Either nature is unique or it is not.  I have no expectation that nature will ever selectively reproduce itself identically.  There is no expectation that any structure or form in nature can ever be identically reproduced by nature.  I challenge anyone to disprove the ‘uniqueness of nature’ philosophy of science.  NOBODY has ever falsified the ‘uniqueness of nature’ theory.  NOBODY has ever found any two structures in nature to be identical.  I am confident nobody ever will.  How can science prove nature is unique?  I do not know.  Science can support nature being unique, but will never be able to study all of nature throughout all of time.  Science needs to try to disprove nature being unique, which we are doing.  Science is also the attempt to disprove, or falsify, a theory. 

 In conjunction with uniqueness, the other aspect of source determination of images is often called ‘permanence’ of friction ridge skin.  Instead of the word permanence, I like the word ‘durability’ or ‘persistency’ of the skin.  As long as the source item is sufficiently durable or persistent in its form, images from the item can be determined as having originated from it.  Sufficient durability of the source item and its features between the time that the two images were deposited is needed.  Permanence throughout the life of the person is not needed.  Sufficient durability or persistency of structural form is needed.  That is why blisters, scars, cuts, warts, and other accidental characteristics can be used during the examination process.  The durability or persistency of these features in the source item must be understood. 

Since nature is unique and often sufficiently durable or persistent, a competent examiner can determine the durable source of an image of nature if the examiner can discern sufficient quality and quantity of detail in the image.  The unique detail in an image of nature is a recording of the unique features of that part of nature.  The detail in any recording will have less quality and quantity of information than found in the features of the source item itself.  A competent examiner using the recurring application of analysis, comparison and evaluation with verification of the examination, should be able to discern whether sufficient quality and quantity of information from the various levels of detail present in the images exists in agreement in order to determine that the impressions share the same source of origin.

 We can recognize unique features in source items from nature.  We can recognize unique detail in images.  From the unique detail, we can discern unique information.  If sufficient agreement of the unique information is determined, the source of the unknown image is determined to be the same as the source of the known image.

 Friction ridge skin is uniquely structured.  The numerous terms attached to friction ridge skin and classification have a tendency to diminish the perception of the actual uniqueness of the detail in the image.  Classification of fingerprints is a wonderful tool to organize, file and recover fingerprint records.  The rules applied to classification do not need to be carried over to individualization of images.  Each ending ridge, bifurcation, delta, dot, loop, whorl, etc., is uniquely structured, no matter the generic label attached.  Each feature of skin on the lips, ears, elbows, knuckles, etc., is uniquely formed.  Generic labels of shapes need not be attached to unique features or detail.

 There is no need to ‘classify’ non-friction ridge images as to types of lip images, elbow images, knuckle crease images, ear images, etc.  Classification is good for grouping images together, but is not needed to determine the source of the image. Classification may limit a search if the donor is a part of the file.  The ability to recognize images and discern the levels of information from the visible detail in images is a key.  Knowing what features are unique in the source is a key.  If the source is from nature, the source is unique.  Levels of clarity, or quality, of the image must be understood when gathering information from the detail in the image.  

The examination methodology of analysis, comparison, evaluation and verification is very logical for the effort of determining agreement or disagreement of unique detail in images from durable unique sources.  It works for friction ridge, firearm/tool mark, shoe print, fracture and many other examinations.  It will also work for elbow, muzzle, lip, forehead, forearm, etc., images. What is the answer to the question, ‘Should we be examining images from non-friction ridge skin?’  My answer has to be yes, after training, understanding and ability produce a competent examiner.  I believe a competently trained and capable examiner can discern quality and quantity of information from detail in images from durable unique sources in nature.                      

 John R. Vanderkolk


To comment on uniqueness in nature, visit the discussion forum at http://www.clpex.com

Next week, Christophe Champod has agreed to provide some information regarding what statistics really mean, and what they can and cannot do.

No major updates.
NOTE: I am currently "on the road" teaching, and vacationing with family for the holidays, so the Details will not be posted on the "Detail" or "Archive" pages of the site until my return January 2.  Of course, the discussion board will still be active and the Detail will still be distributed through e-mail during this time, but updates of the website itself will be delayed for a few weeks.

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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!


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