Magazine article Corrections Forum

Fingerprinting Fingerprints

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Fingerprinting Fingerprints

Article excerpt

At a meeting on Science and the Law, which the U.S. Justice Department hosted recently in San Diego, one of the speakers, Dr. Simon Cole of Cornell University, argued that fingerprinting has never been subject to the scientific scrutiny required in a modern courtroom, and that he has found the procedure statistically and scientifically wanting. Modern fingerprinting traces its origins to Francis Galton, a 19th-century British scientist who examined the pattern of loops, arches, and whorls that make up fingerprints and estimated that the possibility of two prints matching at random was approximately one in 64 billion. However, that estimate has not been scientifically proven, while two other problems make the situation worse in practice. The first problem is that fingerprints discovered at crime scenes tend to consist of fragments rather than whole prints, while the second problem is that most fingerprint evidence discovered at crime scenes requires treatment with chemicals or illumination with ultraviolet light to make it visible enough to work with--and even then the evidence is often indistinct. …

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