Twitter Updates for 2010-07-30

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It’s still hard to find the time to keep Crimepsychblog and the Deception Blog updated and I am not sure when (if ever) I will have the time to post as regularly as I used to. Meanwhile I’m still finding plenty of interesting links and papers so rather than waiting til I have time to blog about them properly (which will probably be never) I’m going to give Twitter a go. If I’ve configured the plugin correctly then there should be regular digests of the tweets posted to these blogs, so you can carry on watching here, or follow me at

Using forensic linguistics in the criminal justice system

As you know, the Crimepsych blog is on something of a hiatus until later this year. To keep you going, I’m delighted to bring you a guest post from John Olsson of the Forensic Linguistics Institute. John is one of the UK’s most experienced forensic linguists, with over 300 criminal cases in his portfolio. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions about how forensic linguistics contributes to solving crimes. You can find out more about John and his work over at his comprehensive website.

Tell us about some of your cases

I mostly get asked to give an opinion on the authorship of a text, which can be a book, a set of mobile phone texts, letters, emails and so on. I also do plagiarism analysis. For example, about four years ago I was approached by Lew Perdue, the novelist, who claimed that his book had been plagiarised by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. This was a very big case and it went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Most of my work is criminal work. I did the authorship analysis in the case of Garry Weddell, the police inspector accused of murdering his wife. He was released on bail and later shot his mother in law and then himself. I also did the linguistics in the case of Julie Turner, the woman whose body was found in an oil barrel in Yorkshire.

What other kinds of cases do you get involved in?

I often get asked by coroners to look at suicide notes, or other texts surrounding incidents of suspicious death. I also do a lot of hate mail work and I’ve done quite a number of product contamination cases. I also do a lot of insurance and other security work in fraud and forgery cases. Mobile phone text authorship is also a key area in forensic linguistics.

Continue reading Using forensic linguistics in the criminal justice system

Conference: Forensic Science for the 21st Century: The National Academy of Sciences Report and Beyond

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU commented on the previous post about a conference they are hosting in April.  It sounds interesting and worth giving greater prominence to. Here’s what they posted:

Forensic Science for the 21st Century: The National Academy of Sciences Report and Beyond

The Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University will host an international conference on April 3-4, 2009, in Tempe, Ariz., on the future of forensic science, with special attention to the highly anticipated report of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, “Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community.”

In addition to experts from universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard Law School, the University of Michigan Law School, the University of California, Irvine, the University of Virginia and ASU, among others, participants will include state and federal judges, the NAS committee chairmen, the president of the American Association of Forensic Sciences, directors of the FBI laboratory and the Innocence Project, and prosecutors, defense attorneys, forensic scientists, and criminalists. Papers will be published in the ABA-ASU journal, Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, and in the Oxford University Press journal, Law, Probability & Risk.

As part of the conference, The Honorable Harry T. Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge and Chief Judge Emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and co-chair of the NAS Forensic Science Committee, will deliver the annual Willard H. Pedrick Lecture. The title of Judge Edwards’ talk is, ‘Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.’

For more information about the conference, co-sponsored by the National Judicial College and the Criminal Justice and Science and Technology Law sections of the American Bar Association, and to register, go to

Deception blog round-up of recent research

I’ve neglected all the crimepsych blogs over the last few months (pressure of work and a doctorate to finish) but to make up for it, at least partially, I’ve published a round-up of all the interesting deception-related research from the last few months over on the Deception Blog. It’s in six parts (there’s a LOT of it) and can be found via the following links:

Part 1: Discussion of who can catch a liar and some research on signs of lying.

Part 2: New technologies and deception detection, particularly recent advances in the debate over fMRI but also some news about ERP-related deception detection.

Part 3: It’s magic! Reporting on the little flurry of interest in understanding how magicians deceive us, with some lessons for how practiced liars might achieve the same effect.

Part 4: When people lie in specific situations, from 911 calls to deception by the police.

Part 5: Polygraphy, and some recent research on the psychophisiology of lying.

Part 6: Kids’ lies, online lies and my deception book of the year.

Blogging is likely to continue to be sporadic on both this and the other crimepsych blogs over the next few months as I try and finish the doctorate, but if all goes to plan I hope to be back to better blogging by the summer of this year.

Wishing you all the best for a happy, safe and successful year in 2009!

Tackling Football Hooliganism: A Quantitative Study of Public Order, Policing and Crowd Psychology

It’s been a very long time since I’ve spotted an article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law that I’ve wanted to read (is it just me or has it been incredibly dull over the last few issues?). But here’s one that sounds interesting, appears theoretically sound and of practical value:

This paper contributes to the science of crowd dynamics and psychology by examining the social psychological processes related to the relative absence of “hooliganism” at the Finals of the 2004 Union Européenne de Football Association (UEFA) Football (Soccer) Championships in Portugal. Quantitative data from a structured observational study is integrated with data from a questionnaire survey of a group associated ubiquitously with ‘hooliganism’ – namely England fans. This analysis provides support for the contention that the absence of ‘disorder’ can be attributed in large part to the non-paramilitary policing style adopted in cities hosting tournament matches. Evidence is presented which suggests that this style of policing supported forms of non-violent collective psychology that, in turn, served to psychologically marginalise violent groups from the wider community of fans. The study highlights the mutually constructive relationships that can be created between psychological theory, research, policing policy and practice, particularly in relation to the successful management of ‘public order’. The paper concludes by exploring some of the wider implications of this research for theory, policy, the management of crowds, social conflict, and human rights more generally.


Free access to Sage journals gives you a chance to read all about science and pseudoscience in policing

Once again Sage Journals is throwing its archive open – you can get free access to all Sage journals until 31 October if you register first. A great opportunity to stock up on articles in journals that you or your library don’t subscribe to.

Can I, in particular, recommend you take a look at the latest issue of Criminal Justice and Behavior? It’s a special on “Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs” pulled together by guest editor Brent Snook. Scott Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield’s overview of science and pseudoscience is just ok (I don’t think it’s as good as it could be), but there are useful reviews (among others) of hypnosis in a legal setting (Graham Wagstaff), of detecting deception (Aldert Vrij), and of false confessions (Saul Kassin). These reviews will prove invaluable if you’re new to these areas of research or need a refresher.

Also in this issue, Snook and colleagues examine why criminal profiling is so seductive, when much of what passes for profiling is simply – according to the authors – “smoke and mirrors”. They conclude:

There is a growing belief that profilers can accurately and consistently predict a criminal’s characteristics based on crime scene evidence… We contend that this belief is illusory because a critical analysis of research on CP [criminal profiling] showed that the field lacks theoretical grounding and empirical support.

And there’s an extraordinary and provocative critique of the FBI’s programme to introduce Critical Incident Stress Debriefing for its agents, co-authored by a former agent who was involved in the programme. The authors bemoan the fact that although the business of “law enforcement is inextricably tied to facts, objectivity, organization, and high standards of proof” (p.1342), the FBI did not (according to the authors) apply the same standards when evaluating a stress debriefing programme for its agents. The evidence for the effectiveness of CISD is scant, argue the authors (and there is some evidence that CISD may even be harmful to people exposed to severe trauma). So, the authors explain: “We are thus compelled to consider how an idea so poorly grounded and so seriously discredited came to hold so tenacious a footing in the employee assistance practices of what is arguably the world’s most sophisticated law enforcement agency” (p.1342). Newbold, Lohr and Gist’s concluding comments could serve as an epitaph for the entire issue:

Pseudoscience finds its foothold where the blurring of boundaries allows the imperatives of evidentiary warrant shared by both domains to become compromised. It takes many years of training and experience to become competent as either a law enforcement agent or a psychologist, and either role requires strong focus and strict boundaries to be executed effectively. Police officers who want to play shrink and psychologists who want to play cop run a serious risk of blurring those boundaries.

Here are the contents in full:

  • Brent Snook – Introduction to the Special Issue: Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs
  • Scott O. Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield – Science and Pseudoscience in Law Enforcement: A User-Friendly Primer
  • Michael G. Aamodt – Reducing Misconceptions and False Beliefs in Police and Criminal Psychology
  • John Turtle and Stephen C. Want – Logic and Research Versus Intuition and Past Practice as Guides to Gathering and Evaluating Eyewitness Evidence
  • Brent Snook, Richard M. Cullen, Craig Bennell, Paul J. Taylor, and Paul Gendreau – The Criminal Profiling Illusion: What’s Behind the Smoke and Mirrors?
  • Graham F. Wagstaff – Hypnosis and the Law: Examining the Stereotypes
  • William G. Iacono – Effective Policing: Understanding How Polygraph Tests Work and Are Used
  • Saul M. Kassin – Confession Evidence: Commonsense Myths and Misconceptions
  • Aldert Vrij – Nonverbal Dominance Versus Verbal Accuracy in Lie Detection: A Plea to Change Police Practice
  • Katherine M. Newbold, Jeffrey M. Lohr, and Richard Gist – Apprehended Without Warrant: Issues of Evidentiary Warrant for Critical Incident Services and Related Trauma Interventions in a Federal Law Enforcement Agency
  • David C. Flagel and Paul Gendreau – Commentary: Sense, Common Sense, and Nonsense

The Anthropology of Crime and Criminalization

Despite the focus on psychological research in this blog, I find anthropological approaches fascinating too. Here’s a neat review of such approaches applied to the cross-cultural understanding of crime and criminality:

The ambiguity of the concept of crime is evident in the two strands of anthropological research covered in this review. One strand, the anthropology of criminalization, explores how state authorities, media, and citizen discourse define particular groups and practices as criminal, with prejudicial consequences. Examples are drawn from research on peasant rebellion, colonialism, youth, and racially or ethnically marked urban poor. The other strand traces ethnographic work on more or less organized illegal and predatory activity: banditry, rustling, trafficking, street gangs, and mafias. Although a criminalizing perspective tends to conflate these diverse forms of “organized” crime, in particular erasing the boundary between street gangs and drug trafficking, the forms have discrete histories and motivations. Their particularities, as well as their historical interactions, illuminate everyday responses to crime and suggest ways to put in perspective the “crime talk” of today, which borders on apocalyptic.


Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology: Special Issue on Criminal Profiling

The latest issue of Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology [23(2)] is a Special Issue on Criminal Profiling edited by Craig Bennell. The issue contains several articles on the research basis for criminal profiling, its limitations and applications. In his introduction to the issue, Bennell explains that the papers touch on some of the

…debates [that] are ongoing about what roles profilers should play in criminal investigations, how profiles should be constructed, delivered, and evaluated, whether the contributions made by profilers are valid and, if so, how, and whether there are new, potentially more productive approaches to profiling that could improve upon or even replace the methods that are currently being used.

Though he rightly notes that it’s impossible to do the topic justice in one issue Bennell argues that he has pulled together some examples of research that “will help in some small way to move the profiling field forward”. One problem with this issue, however, is that it only shines a spotlight on research being conducted by members of Bennell’s research lab at Carlton University and Bennell’s current or former associates. As such, it offers a somewhat partial view of the range of research that is and could be done in this area. So I can’t help but agree that this issue represents only a small step forward, but science is generally built on small steps rather than great leaps.

What Bennell has done here is offer a taster of the kind of research that could and should be done to advance this field, including papers on the reliabilility of data that profiles are based on, the theoretical assumptions underlying some forms of profiling, the ways in which readers might interpret profiles and new, potentially fruitful approaches to profiling. There is plenty here that will be of interest to a range of readers including students, more established researchers and practitioners. Contents and further comments after the break.

Continue reading Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology: Special Issue on Criminal Profiling

Special issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology on eyewitness research


The latest issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology (Volume 22 Issue 6, September 2008) is a special devoted to Basic and Applied Issues in Eyewitness Research, edited by Brian H. Bornstein, Christian A. Meissner. Published to mark the centenary of the publication of “On the Witness Stand” by Hugo Munsterburg, one of forensic psychology’s founding fathers, this issue contains a feast of articles by some of the top names in the field, and will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in eyewitness psychology.

The editors explain why the publication of Munsterberg’s text is worth marking:

Hugo Munsterberg, who was one of the earliest researchers on eyewitness memory, is probably the first figure to advocate strongly for a wider reliance by the courts on psychological research… [His] efforts were largely rebuffed … and since that time, there have been repeated calls for the courts to take eyewitness research (indeed, all social science research) more seriously, accompanied by a range of judicial responses ranging from ready acceptance to outright rejection (Monahan & Walker, 2005). Nor are all psychologists of one mind on this issue. Indeed, even Munsterberg himself, who is widely regarded as one of the founders of applied psychology, at times urged caution in applying psychological research findings to real-world problems…

Bornstein and Meissner go on to highlight two other reasons to revisit the issue of applying psychology in the courtroom: First, despite the increasing acceptance of eyewitness research in the courtroom (they say the “American courtroom” but of course other countries’ judicial systems have also taken note) there remain disagreements about the quality and ecological validity of such research. And second, the editors suggest that the “trend for greater acceptance of research findings by the legal system has, in the opinions of some observers, created a situation in which there is an overemphasis on practical questions, accompanied by a lack of theoretical relevance”. In other words, applied researchers need to pay equal attention to theoretical and practical implications of their research.

The articles in this issue set eyewitness research in a historical context and address the specific issues associated with such research and its applications. Highly recommended.

Contents include:

  • Basic and applied issues in eyewitness research: A Münsterberg centennial retrospective – Brian H. Bornstein, Christian A. Meissner
  • Lessons from the origins of eyewitness testimony research in Europe – Siegfried Ludwig Sporer
  • Hugo who? G. F. Arnold’s alternative early approach to psychology and law – Brian H. Bornstein, Steven D. Penrod
  • Toward a more informative psychological science of eyewitness evidence – John Turtle, J. Don Read, D. Stephen Lindsay, C. A. Elizabeth Brimacombe
  • A “middle road” approach to bridging the basic-applied divide in eyewitness identification research – Sean M. Lane, Christian A. Meissner
  • Study space analysis for policy development – Roy S. Malpass, Colin G. Tredoux, Nadja Schreiber Compo, Dawn McQuiston-Surrett, Otto H. MacLin, Laura A. Zimmerman, Lisa D. Topp
  • The importance (necessity) of computational modelling for eyewitness identification research – Steven E. Clark
  • Estimating the impact of estimator variables on eyewitness identification: A fruitful marriage of practical problem solving and psychological theorizing – Kenneth A. Deffenbacher
  • Eyewitness confidence and latency: Indices of memory processes not just markers of accuracy – Neil Brewer, Nathan Weber
  • Münsterberg’s legacy: What does eyewitness research tell us about the reliability of eyewitness testimony? – Amina Memon, Serena Mastroberardino, Joanne Fraser
  • Theory, logic and data: Paths to a more coherent eyewitness science – Gary L. Wells

See also:

A place to collate information of interest in a forensic psychological context