Professor Ruth Morgan, director of Forensic Science at University College London, and speaker at Ogilvy Change's Nudgestock scheduled on Friday 8th June, spoke at a recent TED Talk on the dangers of misinterpreted forensic evidence.

Forensic science isn’t always the open and shut case that we might think it is. It is not as infallible as it is assumed to be.

You vs Science

Not all of us are going to commit a crime, but every single one of us could be accused of one, says Ruth.

Ruth paints the scenario – you sit in a seat at a cinema for example. A stand of your hair falls out and the hair is picked up by the clothing of the next person to sit in that seat. You leave the cinema and go home none the wiser. But that same night, the person who your hair is now attached to goes and commits a crime. Your hair is left at the scene, linking you to the crime. You’re stood in court while the expert explains to the judge how your hair, your DNA, is cast iron proof you committed the crime. But you know you’re innocent.

This, sadly, is a scenario too many people are all too familiar with.

Misinterpretation of forensic evidence is the biggest problem facing forensic science

For Ruth, forensic science is undeniably a technological success story. We can now identify smaller traces of material, more accurately and quicker than ever before.

But, forensic science has got a problem. It’s a problem that has gone under the radar and it’s a problem that has the potential to impact thousands of innocent people.

Ruth shared a shocking fact - 96% of forensic evidence is misinterpreted. That tells us forensic science has got a problem that technology alone can’t fix.

What we really need to know is if we find gunshot residue on you, how did it get there and when did it get there. Ruth explained the issue: that, at the moment, we don’t have the data that we need to be able to answer that question sufficiently.

Forensic science evidence isn’t always going to be interpreted accurately – so we need a change.

For Ruth, we need to change what our primary focus is, from being on what something is and who it belongs to, and we need to get serious about getting the answers we need to the ‘how’ and the ‘when’.

If we can do that, then we will have the opportunity to dramatically reduce the chances of evidence being misinterpreted.

We need to do that so that each one of us never has to stand in court as that innocent person in the dock.


More about Nudgestock including ticket info here.

Watch Ruth’s TED Talk in full here.

See our work for UCL Forensic Lab here.