The Scientific Credibility of Forensic Psychology

Scientific Credibility

As a forensic discipline, forensic psychology can be located within the broader discourse of forensic science. However, compared to other forensic specialisms e.g. forensic pathology, forensic odontology etc, forensic psychology is often seen as the poor relation.

As with psychology in general, it is often perceived, particularly by those outside the discipline as soft or pseudo science. Now while this is often based on a misunderstanding of the practice of psychology, it's not difficult to understand why this viewpoint prevails.

Take for instance criminal profiling, which rightly or wrongly is often presented as a topic within forensic psychology. There are a host of examples where criminal profiling has been shown to be inaccurate. The Washington sniper case being the most obvious example.

Profiles indicated that a white man working alone was responsible. In the event, two black men, John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested for the killings.

Accuracy & Precision

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences cites accuracy and precision as the cornerstone of professional practice, which makes perfect sense for a society dedicated to the application of science to the law.

Now while it is possible to argue that so called 'hard' sciences can also be found wanting when it comes to accuracy and precision, I'd suggest a more constructive approach, particularly for students of forensic psychology would be to seek out a more balanced view when it comes to defending or evaluating the scientific credibility of forensic psychology.

Criminal profiling represents a very clear case in point. For a start, there is more than one approach to criminal profiling; the theoretical principles of which can differ markedly. While it is possible to point to certain explanatory frameworks as subjective and untestable, equally, it is possible to point to objective and testable statistical procedures being employed.

The ability to compare and contrast a range of approaches and evaluate their respective strengths and weaknesses is an effective learning strategy and should be employed as a matter of course within forensic psychology.

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