FSE 330 Forensic Discipline Comparison Chart Paper

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Forensic Discipline Comparison Chart (45 points)

The week three lecture discussed the importance of understanding the strengths and limitations of various forensic disciplines.During a criminal investigation an investigator will be made aware of the conclusions of those who examine and analyze forensic science evidence and it is crucial that the investigator is able to understand what the results mean and how they affect the investigation, but also how much the conclusions can be relied upon to reflect the ground truth.

This assignment is designed to help you quantify the reliability and validity of three forensic disciplines.The assignment consists of creating a chart which presents information on three forensic disciplines of your choosing from the list contained below.Note that Fire Investigation and Fire Debris Analysis are not on the list and cannot be used for credit.

List of Forensic Disciplines (Choose 4 from this list)

  • Biological Evidence, Serology
  • Biological Evidence, DNA
  • Friction Ridge Analysis, Fingerprint Comparison
  • Pattern/Impression Evidence, Shoeprints
  • Pattern/Impression Evidence, Tire Tracks
  • Toolmark Evidence, Ballistics
  • Toolmark Evidence, Pry Marks
  • Microscopic Hair Comparison
  • Microscopic Fiber Comparison
  • Questioned Document Comparison
  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
  • Forensic Odontology, Bite Mark Comparison

Chart Contents

  • Name the forensic discipline;
  • Define the purpose of the forensic discipline;
  • Describe the underlying methodology used in drawing conclusions;
  • List published guidelines relied upon by forensic examiners;
  • List research which has attempted to measure the discipline’s accuracy rate and error rate;
  • Explain the discipline specific conditions which might affect the general reliability and validity of the science;
  • List scientific, government and professional organizations that develop standards and certifications, and provide oversight and training;
  • Provide a list of websites which offer additional resources, research, training and information.

0 points

2 points

3 points

2 points

3 points

2 points

1 point

1 point


11.5 points

(x4 = 45 points)


A sample chart, using Fire Scene Examination as an example, is contained below.This will give you an idea of how your completed assignment might look.The middle column contains a minimal amount of information.For maximum credit the chart should contain information similar in quality and quantity to the column on the right.


Fire Scene Examination

Fire Scene Examination

Purpose :

To determine the origin and cause of a fire.

To determine the origin, cause and development of a fire or explosion.

(Source: NFPA 921 and NFPA 1033)


The Scientific Method consisting of:

  • Recognize the need;
  • Define the problem;
  • Collect data;
  • Analyze the data;
  • Develop a hypothesis;
  • Test the hypothesis;
  • Select a final hypothesis.

Origin Determination: Application of the scientific method in the analysis of fire patterns, witness statements, arc mapping and fire dynamics. (NFPA 921, 17.1.2)

Cause Determination:

Application of the scientific method in the analysis of observations, experiments or other direct data gathering means. (Source: NFPA 921, 4.4.4)


NFPA 921 and 1033

NFPA 921; NFPA 1033; Kirk’s Fire Investigation;Ignition Handbook;

Research Attempting to Measure Accuracy Rate :

Carmen, S.; Improving the Understanding of Post Flashover Behavior; ISFI (2008)

Gorbett, G., Tinsley, A.; Fire Investigation Origin Determination Survey; ISFI (2012)

Conditions affectingthe reliability and validity of conclusions:

Complex fire scenes with multiple, conflicting burn patterns.

Amount of fire damage, flashover, long extinguishment times, building collapse and amount of overhaul all play a role in creating a complex fire scene and tend to affect the reliability and accuracy of area of origin determination.

Professional Organizations:

International Association of Arson Investigators;

National Association of Fire Investigators.

International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI);

National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI);

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA);

Technical Working Group for Fire and Explosions (TWGFEX);

Various State Fire Marshall’s Offices.




The assignment will be graded based on the quality and quantity of information contained in the chart for a total of 11.5 points for each forensic discipline.four disciplines combine for a maximum of 45 points for this assignment.

Head Start

Here are a couple of resources that you might start with:

Check out the Forensic Sciences Resource Page maintained by the North Carolina Indigent Defense Services: http://www.ncids.com/forensic/resources/resources.shtml.

You can download a copy of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report, Forensic Science in the United States – A Path Forward at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/228091.pdf.

And don’t forget to explore the website of the Scientific Working Group associated with the forensic disciplines that you choose.

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