Daubert and the Effect on Biological Profile Research

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Kate M. Lesciotto


As a core component of casework, methods for estimating the biological profile must meet current legal standards to be
admissible as part of a forensic anthropologist’s expert witness testimony. Since the 1993 US Supreme Court Daubert decision, forensic anthropologists have voiced concern that methods relying on subjective or qualitative data might now be at risk of judicial exclusion. This research used a bibliometric approach to assess whether current forensic anthropology research has shifted toward the use of more objective and/or quantitative data. Forensic anthropology articles published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences between 1972 and 2020 were reviewed (n = 1,142), with data collected on each article’s topic, use of different data types, and inclusion of observer error studies. A subset of articles focusing on methods for estimating the four main parameters of the biological profile (age, sex, ancestry/population affinity, stature) was analyzed using chi-square tests for trend in proportions. Age and sex estimation articles showed a significant shift toward more quantitative data (p < 0.001), although no biological profile subtopic showed a significant shift toward more objective data. While this may seem to be a surprising result, a deeper review of current legal standards and standards of practice suggests that Daubert does not require significant changes to how forensic anthropologists approach research design and method development. So long as the principles of good science are followed, the continued reliance on qualitative data should not be a concern from the standpoint of evidentiary admissibility.

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