Science Thursday – December 19, 2013



collaboration between researchers at North Carolina State University and the members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS

) concluded that the shape of a person’s skull may not be as useful for the identification of human remains as previously thought. 
In instances where extensive dental records are not available, forensic anthropologists have often looked at features in x-rays of the cranial vault outline, or profile of the skull, for identification purposes.  However, Dr. Ann Ross, a researcher at North Carolina State, conducted a study to determine if this practice was reliable.  After looking at the results, Dr. Ross explains that her research team has tried to validate the technique.  Results have revealed that the shape of the skull isn’t enough to make a positive ID.
In the study, members of the AAFS were asked to compare 14 ante-mortem x-rays with five post-mortem x-rays and then to determine positive matches.  Only 47% of all the participants made accurate identifications in all 5 post-mortem x-rays, suggesting that the amount of information used during analysis is insufficient to make comparisons.  
Another researcher, Ashley Maxwell, suggests in a story on “[t]his doesn’t mean that cranial vault outlines aren’t useful  . . . but it does mean that cranial vault outlines shouldn’t be given too much weight.” 
The collaboration between academic researchers and forensic science practitioners to determine the validity of forensic science and determine error rates represents a promising step in research.  These relationships can benefit from practitioners identifying key problems or questions that can be answered by carefully designed scientific studies organized by researchers.
Furthermore, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences is dedicated to promoting forensic science research and has an

annual scientific meeting

that highlights the research and work done by its members. 

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