Of Black boxes, instruments, and experts: Testing the validity of forensic science

Episteme 5 (3):pp. 343-358 (2008)
This paper argues that judges assessing the scientific validity and the legal admissibility of forensic science techniques ought to privilege testing over explanation. Their evaluation of reliability should be more concerned with whether the technique has been adequately validated by appropriate empirical testing than with whether the expert can offer an adequate description of the methods she uses, or satisfactorily explain her methodology or the theory from which her claims derive. This paper explores these issues within two specific contexts: latent fingerprint examination and the use of breath tests for the detection of alcohol. Especially in the forensic science arena, I suggest courts have often been seduced by superficially plausible explanations and descriptions of a technique or method, and permitted these to serve as a substitute for empirical testing. Thinking through these two examples illustrates both why evaluating the extent of testing should be the most important method by which courts assess reliability, and why, when other forms of explanatory evidence are readily available, we may nonetheless elect to make use of them. This paper suggests that these descriptions and explanations may at times usefully supplement evidence of testing, but should not generally be substituted for it. Finally, this paper embraces a kind of evidentiary pragmatism, in which the quantum of evidence required to establish legal reliability is determined not in the abstract, but in relation to the evidence that is, or ought to be, available as a result of reasonable research and investigation
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.3366/E1742360008000440
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 15,974
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

34 ( #94,435 of 1,725,832 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

13 ( #53,203 of 1,725,832 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.