Article Review of Science communication in the Court

  1. Article Title

Discord in the Communication of Forensic Science: Can the Science of Language Help Foster Shared Understanding?

by Loene M. Howe and Nenagh Kemp

  1. Summary

This article reviews the importance of language modification and other participation models of communication to relay important scientific information and comprehension to non-scientist. The authors used forensic science as a basis for their work. In Singapore’s criminal justice system relies heavily on the usage of forensic science in determining the outcomes of criminal consequences. Expert scientists in those areas have to be represented in court to relay such forensic findings to the court who are mainly made up of non-scientist. Hence, for forensic science to be used most appropriately within a given criminal justice system, effective communication must be a specific goal (Aarli, 2013).


  1. Issues of communication in Forensic Science

It has been reported that internationally, forensic scientist faced challenges in reporting their finding to nonscientists in the court. (Howes, 2015). In science disciplines namely analytical chemistry, how the science of the evidence is being explained depicts the strength of the evidence. For example, to communicate the fragment of glass found on the suspect clothing verse broken glass found from a crime scene can be indistinguishable. Forensic scientists can communicate that the glass from the crime scene and from the suspect could have originated from the same source. However the use of could have carries the risk of overstating the evidence rather than a clear communication of likelihood of a particular scenario (Aitken, 2012).

In DNA profiling, associations are usually presented with a statistical expression. The use of frequencies to present the data may be more easily understood by non-scientist, but can generate relatively wide range of standard and perception. (Ligertwood & Edmond, 2012). Sometimes the use of probability and likelihood can be used to explain the scientific findings but these too can be easily mistaken as the likelihood of a suspect’s criminal guilt or innocence. (de Keijser & Elffers, 2012).

  1. Models of communication of science with the public

The article shared three models of communication of science with the public namely, deficit, dialogue, and participation. (Bucchi, 2008). They found these models relevant to the communication of forensic science. According to the deficit approach, the expert scientist is viewed as the knowledge provider and assumes information is communicated in a one -ay flow of information. This is observed through the expert written reports that are used to communicate the findings to the police officers and lawyers. (Howes, 2015).

In contrast, the dialogue and participatory models of communication requires a two way flow of communication and reflect a more contemporary understanding of communication. Research group suggested intergroup communication can help further assist the communication of forensic science better. (Greenaway, et. al., 2015). Dialogues also offered forensic scientists a valuable opportunity to practice explaining their findings to a nonscientist (Howes, 2015).


  1. Conclusion

This article raised issues to how the communication of science can have greater impact and application to our daily life. Forensic science is science applied to law, and it is crucial for the non–scientist to comprehend the findings accurately. The report and the science must therefore be presented in a manner where the information is clear to prevent the non-scientist decision maker to be misinformed. Thus, adopting clear science communication techniques is crucial in the transferable implication of forensic science in the courtroom.


  1. Reference

Aarli, R. (2013). The status and meaning of criminal procedure: An exploration of the reception of DNA evidence in criminal process. Bergen Journal of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice, 1, 63-74.

Aitken, C. (2012). An introduction to a debate. Law, Probability & Risk, 11, 255-258.

Bucchi, M. (2008). Of deficits, deviations and dialogues: Theories of public communication of science. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Handbook of public communication of science and technology (pp. 57-76). New York, NY: Routledge.

de Keijser, J., & Elffers, H. (2012). Understanding of forensic expert reports by judges, defense lawyers and forensic professionals. Psychology, Crime & Law, 18, 191-207.

Greenaway, K. H., Wright, R. G., Willingham, J., Reynolds, K. J., & Haslam, S. A. (2015). Shared identity is key to effective communication. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 171-182.

Ligertwood, A., & Edmond, G. (2012). Discussion paper: A just measure of probability. Law, Probability & Risk, 11, 365-369.

Howes, L. M., & Kemp, N. (2017). Discord in the Communication of Forensic Science: Can the Science of Language Help Foster Shared Understanding?. Journal of Language and Social Psychology36(1), 96-111.

Howes, L. M. (2015). A step towards increased understanding by non-scientists of expert reports: Recommendations for readability. Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 47, 456-468.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s