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Monday, October 2, 2006

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.
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Fingerprinting Leads To Arrest of Assault Suspect CBS42-TV, TX - Sep 29, 2006 ...the prints were matched to the suspect by an examiner in the Latent Print Unit using AFIS...

Police Want Pawn Shops to Fingerprint  NEWS 14-TV, NC - Sep 28, 2006 ...anyone hoping to sell an item to a local pawn shop could soon be forced to leave their fingerprints...

Federal Funding Boosts Forensics Program STATE JOURNAL, WV - Sep 25, 2006 ...WVU's Forensic Science Initiative is getting almost 4-million-dollars in federal funding to help fight crime...

State's Criminals Face High-tech Police MYRTLE BEACH SUN NEWS, NC - Sep 24, 2006 photographs and a fingerprint-photo system that will generate a unique ID number...

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When is 100% not enough?
Dogma 252 Thu Sep 28, 2006 8:44 pm

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No major updates on the website this week


Last week

we looked at Part I of a two-part speech by Steve Scarborough on "Leaps of Logic" and "False Dilemmas".

This week

we take a look at Part II.


Infallible - Part II
by Steve Scarborough

Addressing a large audience of latent print examiners)

Welcome back from break, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are continuing to discuss a number today's most heated fingerprint-related issues while pondering some different and thoughtful perspectives to gain benefit from seeing another side of the issue.

Leap of Logic #5, “Isn’t that what you are saying by the statement of infallibility?”

     That people can’t make mistakes? Well, no. That is not what anyone is saying by the assertion of the infallibility of Fingerprints. Funny, but that doesn’t happen in any other discipline or science. When an expert makes a general statement about their science or discipline they are not referring to the conclusions made by individuals in that area of expertise. Experts make assertions, some very restrictive, about what happens in their discipline to support their conclusions. In other words: due to gravity, water drops to the lowest point. This statement is positive and solid –it is not saying that an engineer never makes mistakes. When a hydrological engineer says that the water invariably flows down that section of pipe and is 100% confident that is how it works, that person is not saying that engineers don’t make mistakes.  It is a leap of logic to think that one follows the other.

Now that I have armed you with the tools: leap of logic, false dichotomy& false dilemma, intentional ambiguity, science myths and the ideas of context and philosophical vs. practical discussions-

     Let’s look at Karl Popper.  Here is another perspective on Popper and falsifiability. Karl Popper was a NOT a scientist, he was a philosopher. 8  He wrote about progress of science and scientific ideas. He was vastly concerned with the social sciences, such as the ideas of Freud, and Marx and analytical philosophy.

    There are many scientists that do not agree with Popper.  In fact, Popper is and always has been surrounded by plenty of controversy.  Remember, Popper was a philosopher, not a bench scientist. Popper worked in the abstract, the philosophical world. While his theories have merit in that world, they really have little relationship to the practical world.

     “Thomas Kuhn’s influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued that scientists work in a series of paradigms and found little evidence of scientists actually following a falsificationist methodology.” 9

      “Another objection is that it is not always possible to demonstrate falsehood definitively, especially if one is using statistical criteria to evaluate a null hypothesis. More generally, it is not always clear that if evidence contradicts a hypothesis that this is a sign of flaws in the hypothesis rather than of flaws in the evidence.” 10    However, one interesting stance of Popper is that he “makes clear in the Logic of Scientific Discovery, his belief that the resolution of conflicts between hypotheses and observations can only be a matter of the judgment of scientists, in each individual case.” 11

      In the end, Popper’s falsifiability notion is a perfect example of how a philosophical argument cannot always be used for the practical world.  These philosophical thoughts just don’t translate effectively to every idea or science. Just like “error rates,” are best suited for chemistry and machines, and should not be applied to a practical or applied science. Falsifiability should not be applied to an observation or applied science like Fingerprints.

Our next Leap of Logic is # 6, “The 100% sure statement reveals a problem in Fingerprints” -

      Now wait a minute, this is a huge leap of logic. Confidence shows a weakness? That doesn’t fit does it? And just like a lot of these other statements, the two do not go together (false dichotomy) and show why this is another leap. We have already busted the myth that “there is nothing absolute in science” in the practical world, so it cannot follow that if you say you are 100% sure about something that you are automatically incorrect. Especially when the basis is the random creation of friction ridge skin. That is a leap of logic into a false dichotomy.

Leap of Logic #7, “They cover up mistakes, so that shows that Fingerprints are not reliable” -

     If an organization is reluctant to admit or reveal mistakes it doesn’t naturally follow that they are questioning the validity of what they do. Generally, it just means they would rather not have their mistakes aired in public. First, it certainly doesn’t mean that mistakes cannot be made because, at least internally, they are admitting to a mistake. Second, it generally doesn’t mean that they think that their people doing that discipline are infallible. It is a leap of logic to think that if a mistake is not publicly acknowledged by an agency, that it means that the entire discipline thinks that mistakes cannot be made or that the process is not reliable anymore.

Leap of Logic # 8, “Fingerprint experts make mistakes, therefore Fingerprints are unreliable” -

Look at these statements:

“…the fingerprinting community has attributed errors to incompetence, rather than to the inherent unreliability of their craft, in order to maintain the pretense of infallibility in the face of irrefutable evidence that misidentifications have occurred.” 12  Mistakes are made, therefore the science is unreliable? Isn’t it obvious where the leap of logic is here? Look again at that sentence. There are so many things wrong with that sentence and its propositions it boggles the mind. Can you find all the fallacies in that statement?
     The fingerprint expert says, “Fingerprints are infallible”, the critic hears “experts can’t make mistakes.” Conversely when the critic sees that an expert made a mistake, the critic concludes that the science and methodology are somehow flawed and that the process is inherently unreliable.  Huge leaps of logic that are unscientific, illogical, and frankly, should not be looked upon as having any viable substance.

      That is the purpose of the HEADLINES that I have been showing you. These statements are controversial so they get the press, like the very noticeable headline, “Two Snowflakes Found to be Alike!”- But it is easy to see in the actual story that there is no substance to the boast.

    Anytime the critic makes these leaps of logic and statements of false dichotomy - one of us should be there to say - “NO, that is not what that statement means."  We should be there to say- "I know it serves your personal purpose, to attempt to discredit Fingerprints, but that is not what is said nor is it even implied or suggested."  "You are wrong. Your conclusion is mixing two concepts and it is a leap of logic."

     Now for later, here is your assignment: look at each of these statements, and the numbered assertions, and decide upon your perspective and formulate your responses.  

    Oh and your future homework is this. Every time you hear someone make one of these statements like: “You said Fingerprints are infallible so that means that fingerprint experts don’t make mistakes” or “There is a zero error rate for fingerprints so that means that fingerprint experts won’t admit to making mistakes” or  any one of the above statements; that you challenge the person spouting them.

These approaches, when you examine them carefully, are really bizarre and have no real merit. Don’t let them get away with it without a logical response. Don’t let them get any momentum for their false dichotomy, intentional ambiguity, or contextual twist.  Stand up and affirm: “That doesn’t make sense! Or: That thought is interesting but your conclusion doesn’t follow. Or: That is a philosophical argument that isn’t relevant in the practical world. Or: That is a bizarre and unscientific leap of logic!

8. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Wikipaedia, Karl Popper.

10  ibid

11  ibid

12 Column: Forensics: Lessons from the Brandon Mayfield Case, William C. Thompson; Simon A. Cole, Champion, April, 2005

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

Have a GREAT week!