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Epistemics for Forensics

  • Roger G. Koppl, Robert Kurzban and Lawrence Kobilinsky

Forensic science error rates are needlessly high. Applying the perspective of veritistic social epistemology to forensic science could produce new institutional designs that would lower forensic error rates. We make such an application through experiments in the laboratory with human subjects. Redundancy is the key to error prevention, discovery, and elimination. In the “monopoly epistemics” characterizing forensics today, one privileged actor is asked to identify the truth. In “democratic epistemics,” several independent parties are asked. In an experiment contrasting them, democratic epistemics reduced the rate at which biased observers obscured the truth by two-thirds. These results highlight, first, the potential of “epistemic systems design,” which employs the techniques of economic systems design to address issues of veracity rather than efficiency, and second, the value of “experimental epistemology,” which employs experimental techniques in the study of science.

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