Findings of find-the-phrase experiment published in Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences

Thanks so much to those who generously gave their time to participate in the recent find-the-phrase experiment.

The findings (along with discussion) have now been published in the Australian Journal of Forensic Science, along with a guest editorial explaining some of the background and motivation for the experiment.

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Fraser, H. 2017. ‘Assisting’ listeners to hear words that aren’t there: dangers in using police transcripts of indistinct covert recordings. Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences.

ABSTRACT Results are reported of a new experiment using an indistinct covert recording from a real murder trial, along with the police transcript admitted to ‘assist’ the court to hear its contents. Previous research using the same material has shown that the police transcript is inaccurate, yet nevertheless highly influential on the perception of listeners ‘primed’ by seeing words it suggests. The current experiment examines the effects of priming participants with a made-up phrase that vaguely fits the acoustics of one section of the recording. Results indicate that a very high proportion of listeners are easily ‘assisted’ to ‘hear’ the made-up phrase. Discussion argues that audio of this quality should only be used as evidence if accompanied by a reliable independent transcript.

Fraser, H. 2017. Real forensic experts should pay more attention to the dangers posed by ‘ad hoc experts’Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences.

INTRODUCTION Recent years have seen a great deal of attention given to the reliability of expert evidence admitted in criminal trials. However, almost no attention has been given to the reliability of evidence provided by so-called ‘ad hoc experts’. Indeed, many forensic scientists seem unaware that such a category of witness even exists, much less of the substantial threats they pose to the fairness of our criminal justice system. ‘Ad hoc experts’ are used for a number of evidence types1. Here, we concentrate on one type that appears in Australian courts on a weekly basis: interpretation of indistinct covert recordings. The aim is to draw the attention of AJFS readers to serious problems in the handling of this much-used form of evidence, in the hope that the AAFS might develop a position on the issues and support calls for reform of practice.

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