In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Communicating Scientific Findings in the Courtroom

  • Introduction
  • Current Practices of Statement Formulation
  • Guidelines Developed by Forensic Science Communities
  • Rules Set Out by Courts Confronted with Scientific Evidence
  • Errors Made by Laypeople When Assessing Probabilities
  • Jurors’ Understanding of Scientific Findings
  • Impact of the Form of Presentation of Scientific Findings on Laypeople
  • Extraneous Factors Influencing the Evaluation of Scientific Findings by Fact Finders
  • Visual Communication
  • Poor Communication as a Cause of Wrongful Convictions
  • Use of New Technologies for Expert Evidence Presentation
  • How to Improve Statements Made by Forensic Scientists

Criminology Communicating Scientific Findings in the Courtroom
Joëlle Vuille, Nicole M. Egli Anthonioz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0198


The number of civil and criminal trials in which there is presented at least one piece of scientific evidence—by which we mean the analysis and interpretation of physical evidence derived from the so-called hard sciences (thus excluding the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and the social and behavioral sciences)—is constantly increasing. Yet the fact finders, be they judges or juries or the attorneys arguing the cases, have limited scientific education. In this context, the way scientific experts express the results of analyses and interpretations carried out, as well as the way the members of the court understand the content of their message, is of utmost importance. Misunderstandings do happen and have dramatic consequences, as an abundant literature on wrongful convictions now well illustrates. It is thus urgent that forensic scientists learn to write more transparent statements. This requirement is also set out in a landmark report published in 2009 by the National Research Council. Following this trend, the forensic community has started developing guidelines concerning statement writing, and a structured approach to communication of expert opinion in court is now emerging. However, empirical results as to what constitutes good practice in the expression of results, and particularly the uncertainty attached to scientific results, are not abundant. Indeed, while guidelines exist, the improvement in mutual understanding is not evident. This quest for mutual understanding, in particular in the expression of evidential value, is the subject of this article. Joëlle Vuille wishes to thank the Swiss National Science Foundation for their financial support (grant PP00P1_176720).

General Issues in Communicating about Science

This section presents publications that situate the problem of communicating scientific facts and interpretations to fact finders and making decisions based on such evidence. The journals offer the same general overview: the (mis)understanding of science by the public, as well as the more specific topic of integrating scientific evidence in the judicial decision-making process.

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