Papers of Interest
One of the goals of the Research Subcommittee is to regularly highlight and share relevant research and papers of interest to FFLM members.
Each month a different paper of interest will be listed below. We are interested in suggestions by members of recent research of note in forensic medicine. If you know of a paper that you would like to see featured, or if you have published a paper that you would like to share, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org (open access papers are preferable, but not required).
For July 2021, the recommended paper is:
“Cognitive bias in forensic pathology decisions,” by Dror and colleagues, published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in February 2021. The authors examined the role that racial bias plays in manner of death determinations in pediatric deaths in which abuse is a potential cause. The paper was very controversial in the US, and caused the ethics panel of the US National Association of Medical Examiners to investigate the co-authors of the paper for violation of their standard of conduct, and several members to write to the journal and ask that the paper be retracted.
The full citation, link, and abstract for the paper is below:
Dror, I., Melinek, J., Arden, J.L., Kukucka, J., Hawkins, S., Carter, J. and Atherton, D.S. (2021), Cognitive bias in forensic pathology decisions. J Forensic Sci. https://doi.org/10.1111/1556-4029.14697
Abstract: Forensic pathologists’ decisions are critical in police investigations and court proceedings as they determine whether an unnatural death of a young child was an accident or homicide. Does cognitive bias affect forensic pathologists’ decision-making? To address this question, we examined all death certificates issued during a 10-year period in the State of Nevada in the United States for children under the age of six. We also conducted an experiment with 133 forensic pathologists in which we tested whether knowledge of irrelevant non-medical information that should have no bearing on forensic pathologists’ decisions influenced their manner of death determinations. The dataset of death certificates indicated that forensic pathologists were more likely to rule “homicide” rather than “accident” for deaths of Black children relative to White children. This may arise because the base-rate expectation creates an a priori cognitive bias to rule that Black children died as a result of homicide, which then perpetuates itself. Corroborating this explanation, the experimental data with the 133 forensic pathologists exhibited biased decisions when given identical medical information but different irrelevant non-medical information about the race of the child and who was the caregiver who brought them to the hospital. These findings together demonstrate how extraneous information can result in cognitive bias in forensic pathology decision-making.
- Two data sets revealing cognitive bias in forensic pathologists’ decisions about manner of death.
- Death certificate data show racial disparity in judging child deaths as homicide vs. accidental.
- Experimental data reveal forensic pathology contextual bias by irrelevant non-medical information.
- Both data sets show extraneous information, for example, race, cognitively biasing forensic pathologists.
Cognitively informed training and policies must be in place to minimize forensic pathology biases.