By Suzanne Basra, Content & Internal Communications Manager at Ogilvy UK

 

The UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences was set up in 2010 as the first dedicated interdisciplinary research centre to address the big challenges of interpreting forensic science evidence.

It's Founder and Director, Professor Ruth Morgan - Professor of Crime and Forensic Science at UCL - is speaking at Nudgestock on Firday 8th June about the misinterpretation of forensic evidence.

Ahead of her talk, we catch up with Ruth, one of the most prolific researchers in forensic science, to chat about how we interpret what forensic evidence means and how we understand decision-making under uncertainty. 

Summarise your talk in one sentence

Understanding what forensic science evidence means is the biggest challenge facing forensic science, it threatens our justice system and we need good science and good behavioural science to make the change we need.

Why is the misinterpretation of forensic evidence so important today?

Trace evidence can be really powerful, but only if we know what it means.

For example, if we find gunshot residue on your hands, does that mean you’ve fired a gun or could you have picked it up from using a supermarket trolley, or using the grab rail on the bus?

At the moment we can identify what that residue is, but it’s often difficult to tell how or when that gunshot residue got on your hands. That means that it’s possible it could be misinterpreted.  This is so important because that’s how miscarriages of justice can happen.

What should we be looking out for in terms of developments in this field?

There are going to be some amazing breakthroughs in forensic science in terms of what information we can get from trace materials. You wouldn’t believe what scientists can now find out about you from the particles in your fingerprints!

But what I also hope we’re going to see is increasing activity around getting to the bottom of what that evidence means.  We’re going to be seeing more about how human decision making impacts the outcomes in forensic reconstructions.  There’s going to much more understanding about how your DNA can go where you’ve never been. But for that to happen there’ll need to be a big change in what drives and incentivises research. 

What advice would you give to those trying to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty?

Almost the only certain thing in a changing world is uncertainty. We need to know what we don’t know.  

We also need to know what could we know, and what can’t we know.  Then focus your energy on getting the answers to what we could know and be transparent about what the knowns and unknowns are that underpin your decision.

This is a big focus of our research in forensic science.

 

Final tickets to Nudgestock 2018 on Friday 8th June are up for grabs here.

More from our Nudgestock 2018 speakers as we catch up with Mark Brooks on the psychology behind online dating here.

We also spoke to Nicholas Christakis, named one of the world's most influential people, about his upcoming Nudgestock talk on using social networks for good here.