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G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, May 2, 2005

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...
compiled by Jon Stimac

Man Ruled Competent for Trial in '79 Slaying FLINT JOURNAL, MI - April 30, 2005 ...bloody fingerprints found at the crime scene were entered into AFIS...

Charge Over 1974 Child Slaying in Abilene KLTV-TV, TX - April 27, 2005 ...fingerprint that was found at the victim's home was entered into a crime database in 1994...

Fingerprints Required   WOKR-TV, NY - April 25, 2005 ...fingerprint on check is store policy to avoid check fraud...

Man Says He Found Skin on Sandwich   PHILLYBURBS.COM  - April 25, 2005  ... man is suing a restaurant for more than $50,000, claiming he found a slice of skin on his sandwich...

Joe Polski, COO of the IAI, relates in a recent e-mail that applications are now being taken by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for Coverdell grant funding.  That funding can be used for any forensic related need and is not restricted to anything in particular.  More information and application procedures are available at:

Last week, we looked at research from Dr. Tom Busey and John Vanderkolk no fundamental differences in recognition processes in the brain between experts and non-experts.

This week we look at recognition from a more historical and philosophical viewpoint.

The Complexity Of Recognition [Part 1]
by Craig Coppock

Rarely do we consider that the concept of recognition is used every second of every day of our lives. Without recognition we would cease to move in an organized manner, as we would have nowhere in particular to go. In fact, we could not exist at all. We use our expertise in recognition to constantly assist us. Recognition is found in an infinite degree of complexity, from a smell to having a successful and incident free day at the office. How do we know? Recognition is based on the evaluation of information. We do not need to know all the information available in order to understand the probability that our conclusion of recognition is correct. When we do not have enough information to make an identification, we already know that too. We not only recognize when we do have the proper amount of information, we also recognize when we do not! Less the fact of recognition itself, there is no difference between the two. Both are based on the evaluation of available information. We have the ability to recognize our friends while viewing only one side of them. We do not always need to also see their opposite side as well.[1]

While many forms of cognition are based on analogy[2], recognition furthers this basic thought by adding comparative detail analysis with both, the conscious and subconscious mind. Recognition starts and ends in the brain. The conscious and subconscious minds work together utilizing as much data as they can effectively process. This information is drawn from experience as well as current evaluations of the environment. The actual moment of recognition can be described as the moment of positive recognition or MPR. MPR is defined as; an affirmative decision of identification based on the accumulation of contextually compared and experience based information that falls within expected statistical parameters. The information above and beyond this point is simply additional supporting data that is not needed for further practical use. This information is not needed to further support the recognition, yet we often make ourselves aware of it. In the case of fingerprint identification, this additional information is often analyzed to some degree to ensure accuracy.

[Figure 1; Recognition & Non-Recognition with Moment of Positive Recognition as supporting information increases]

The brain is an amazing organ. It has the capacity to process immense amounts of information simultaneously. The brain also has the ability to put that information into a usable and understandable context for later reference. The process of recognition is formed wholly inside the brain utilizing information that is further deduced from information that was analyzed regarding a particular issue, as well as from related information based on past experience. The brain has specialized areas that are noted for their particular specialties. With the task of recognition, certain parts of the brain become very active. This increased and localized activity can be studied and monitored. One researcher excitedly stated: “Your whole hippocampus is screaming!” ...activity in a structure adjacent to the hippocampus known as the fusiform gyrus; this too, was not a surprise, ... Recent research on face recognition has identified this as the key area in the brain for the specialized task of perceiving faces. What was a surprise was that the most excited sector in my brain as it viewed familiar faces was, once again, the “story telling area.” 5 But, how does recognition work? Did Einstein or Newton have an enlarged or well exercised fusiform gyrus?

We all remember the story of Newton and the falling apple. Albert Einstein imagined what it would be like if he were riding on a light wave and recognized that the speed of light is relative. If you shine a light out of a moving train it does not add up! 60 mph + c = c. Prior to that, in 1858, Alfred R. Wallace, while sweltering in a fever on the island of Moluccas “there suddenly flashed upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest...then, considering the variation continually occurring in every fresh generation of animals or plants, and the changes of climate, of food, of enemies always in progress, the whole method of specific modification became clear to me....” 3 This in turn, fueled Charles Darwin's fire on evolutionary theory. In about 250 B.C. Archimedes was pondering over a problem for the Greek King Hieron II about measuring the content of gold in a crown. He realizing that copper has a density of 8.92 gcm and gold about double that, in Archimedes equivalents. Archimedes thought there must be a solution to the problem, even though the mathematics of the time did not allow for such complex calculations. Regardless, Archimedes took his thoughts to a public bath for some relaxation. The bath ran over its edges as Archimedes displaced the water. “And as he ran (naked), Archimedes shouted over and over, “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Of course, knowing no English, he was compelled to shout it in Greek, so it came out, “Eureka! Eureka!” 4 The MPR had been reached.

Some aspects of recognition can be studied by focusing on particular aspects of the cognitive process. “Visual perception plays a crucial role in mental functioning. How we see helps determine what we think and what we do. ...Denis G. Pelli a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, has had the happy idea of enlisting the visual arts.” 5 Study in the area of the visual arts has “disproved the popular assumption that shape perception is size-independent.5 Of course, this too, is relative. When viewed at particular extremes, shape is size dependent from a human perspective. Aristotle noted that shape perception could be independent of size only for sizes that are neither so huge as to exceed our visual field, nor so tiny as to exceed our visual acuity.5 Size and shape are forms of information. Thus, we can assume that all information, including that used for recognition, is also relative. This information too should have noticeable distortion at extremes. This distortion is found as a lowering of the information’s qualitative and quantitative value. Yet, it’s realative value may be affected to a different degree. Other extremes are notices where too much information cannot be processed effectively and too little information will not yield sufficient relationships for a useful comparative analysis; thus, recognition cannot be supported. Distortion or lack of information can prevent recognition. This is why “hind sight is 20/20.” After the fact, more information is usually present, making relationships of relevant information more distinct.

Distortions of fingerprint information can be found in a wide variety of forms. What is realized, is that information is found embedded within information and distortions of this information may only partially obscure specific details. However, we are all experts at the recognition process. We also have considerable experience dealing with various levels of distortion. Experts that practice specialized forms of recognition, such as fingerprint identification, shoe print identification, etc... can also be effective and accurate that particular recognition process if they are sufficiently skilled in the applicable areas. Essentially, they must be as comparatively skilled as a parent recognizing their children. For each is a specialized and learned skill that requires experience.

The actual point of recognition (MPR) is not definable in everyday terms. It cannot be clinically quantified as to what is actually taking place and when it is taking place. MPR is a statistically exempt process due to the infinite number of variables and overt complexities. All we could hope for would be rough statistical model that may possibly illuminate it’s feasibility. Unlike DNA’s known numbers, most of the forensic sciences, ultimately based on the recognition process, are too complex and variable to explain with hard numbers. An old analogy to our inability of finding exactness in most of nature was described using a bow, an arrow, and a target. Imagine an arrow shot at a target. When will the arrow hit the target? Even if we know the speed and the distance, we will have to forget that the arrow will always be only halfway further to the target. If it is always getting halfway further, when do you run out of “1/2” the distance? You can get a neat answer by using the speed/distance formula. Then we must ask ourselves as to which ruler will we use and how accurate is that ruler, and of course, how accurate is the person who is doing all the measuring? Thus, even the simple task of measuring the time of impact for an arrow at its target can be frustratingly complex unless we are allowed to make some real world assumptions for the purpose of simplification.

We understand that at some point our ability to measure things, no matter what type of measuring devices we use, whether it be a meter, a second, or often, statistics. This failure is due to the loose tolerances required to make everyday issues solvable in a practical manner. Accordingly, we accept a certain amount of tolerance in the answers to our questions. Recognition also follows this path, as we are not given the opportunity to exactly define the MPR. This is due the variables in information and the manner in which that information is analyzed. There is no particular order in manner in which a person must analyze information during the recognition process. Some paths of information correlation may offer the MPR sooner than if another alternative path is taken. This includes the analysis of the distortion of information as well. Distortion is always present to some degree, whether it is recognizing your cat or evaluating a latent fingerprint. Omnipresent distortion is a law of nature, yet we seem to deal with this aspect just fine. The main reason for this is due to the fact that we always receive information differently. We are used to understanding similar information presented in a variety of ways. We understand that each time we evaluate something, at least some of the previously available information will be different. Hence, we are experts at recognizing distortion and variability in the recognition process. We can often disregard information that falls extreme categories simply because the influence they do have is so insignificant, or that other sufficient information is present. Unintelligible information is not used in the recognition process. If insufficient information is present, then recognition is simply not possible.

In many cases, as with distortion, it is only when we wish to view the component items of a problem, do we actually see them clearly. It seems that, for the most part, our cognitive world is based on generalizations, analogies, and our ability for recognition. The boundary of the classical reality is a boundary of informational usefulness and practicality. We need to understand the variables in their correct context to understand what recognition is, let alone, to make an attempt to measure it. Within the forensic sciences, we must understand the limits of information in order to understand its usefulness.

Craig A. Coppock
Forensic Specialist, CLPE


1. Coppock, Craig (2003) Differential Randomness and Individualization.

2. Hofstadter, Douglas (2000) Analogy as the Core of Cognition, The Best American Science Writing 2000, Ecco Press, New York.

3. Wallace, Alfred Russell, (The Wonderful Century)

4. Asimov, Isaac (1974) The Left Hand Of The Electron; p. 190, Dell, New York

5. Pelli, Denis G. (2000) Close Encounters: An Artist Shows That Size Affects Shape. The Best American Science Writing 2000, Ecco Press, New York.

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We had two contributions this week to the Close Calls page.  Lately, we haven't seen much activity in what could be one of the most useful resources for examiners to consider.  I know that I sit and carefully study each "Close Call" I have in real casework.  I ask myself why I am sure it is not an identification, but even further I study the similarity that is present so that I am in an even better position to know in the future how much is NOT enough!  I would encourage you to do the same in casework.  And if you think of it, consider preserving some of those really close calls for Captain Pretty Darn Close, keeper of the Close Calls.  He can be reached at:

Updated the Smiley Files with one new Smiley

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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.

Have a GREAT week!