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The controversy over the interpretation of DNA profile evidence in forensic identification can be attributed in part to confusion over the mode(s) of statistical inference appropriate to this setting. Although there has been substantial discussion in the literature of, for example, the role of population genetics issues, few authors have made explicit the inferential framework which underpins their arguments. This lack of clarity has led both to unnecessary debates over ill-posed or inappropriate questions and to the neglect of some issues which can have important consequences. We argue that the mode of statistical inference which seems to underlie the arguments of some authors, based on a hypothesis testing framework, is not appropriate for forensic identification. We propose instead a logically coherent framework in which, for example, the roles both of the population genetics issues and of the nonscientific evidence in a case are incorporated. Our analysis highlights several widely held misconceptions in the DNA profiling debate. For example, the profile frequency is not directly relevant to forensic inference. Further, very small match probabilities may in some settings be consistent with acquittal. Although DNA evidence is typically very strong, our analysis of the coherent approach highlights situations which can arise in practice where alternative methods for assessing DNA evidence may be misleading.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





11741 - 11745


Criminal Law, DNA Fingerprinting, Data Interpretation, Statistical, Evaluation Studies as Topic, Forensic Anthropology, Genetics, Population, Humans, Models, Theoretical, Probability, Reproducibility of Results