T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, November 18, 2002
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.
My understanding of the word “subjective” is that it is something that is based from your opinion. The definition of “subjective” according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary which most closely describes an expert opinion is as follows: “arising from conditions within the brain or sense organs and not directly caused by external stimuli.” Something described as being subjective is from you, the person, it is not directly connected to the external stimuli, but rather indirectly. Meaning that you don’t react because of the stimuli, rather, you react because of how you interpret the stimuli and what you know as to be appropriate.
The New World Dictionary:
Second College Edition defines “opinion”, as it relates to an expert as: “the
formal judgment of an expert on a matter in which his advice is sought”. So
opinions are someone’s interpretation (judgment) of the information, thus an
indirect response to the direct external stimuli. We are interpreting the facts
that are presented to us, be it in friction ridge detail or reading a graph
printout from a GC-Mass Spec. Because of that human interpretation of facts, an
opinion is subjective.
It was best described to me
by a fellow colleague of mine, Glenn Langenburg. He said, “In science, the only
truly objective field is mathematics. If you were going to paint a mental
picture, math would be on one end of the spectrum and the field of psychology on
the other end of the spectrum, with forensic science fitting somewhere in
between the two. You will always have some amount of subjectivity in forensic
science, but it is definitely towards the objective end of that spectrum.”
Because of the method of how we arrive at our expert opinions, and because of definitions of “subjective” like “lacking in reality or substance,” we as a forensic scientist’s may be better off not to use the word “subjective”. Instead, I present the idea of using the word “conclusion” to describe what our opinion is. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “conclusion” as: “a reasoned judgment: inference”. The New World Dictionary: Second College Edition defines “conclusion” as “the last step in a reasoning process; judgment, decision, or opinion formed after investigation or thought”. These definitions seem to fit much more appropriately to what our opinion really is, a judgment based on facts.
This word used as a description of an expert opinion may aid in stopping attorneys from giving definitions of the word “subjective” in their closing remarks that are not actually in the same context as to what we do. Now of course if the next question an attorney asks once you explain to them that you would prefer the word “conclusion” instead of “subjective,” is “Well then Mr. Bergeron, is your conclusion subjective?” You get that attorney to define exactly what he means by subjective. The fact remains that all opinions are inherently subjective. However, I think it’s important that the court, jury, judge and attorneys know that we base our subjective opinion on the objective facts of the case and by using the word “conclusion” hopefully it will be a little more clear as to what an expert opinion is.
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other examiners. This is
a free service FOR latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. There are
no copyrights on The Detail, and the website is open for all to visit.