Sizing up the evidence

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Science  11 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6278, pp. 1130-1132
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6278.1130

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For decades, forensic examiners have claimed that so-called pattern evidence—including footprints, tire tracks, shoeprints, and grooves on bullet cartridges—could conclusively link evidence to a suspect. After a landmark report in 2009 called such claims groundless, forensic science began grinding toward reform. In one example, the new Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence has begun developing statistical methods that describe the strength of pattern evidence. It's a problem of immense complexity; it's unclear how much variation exists in the world's population of shoes, guns, or fingerprints, for example, or just how much similarity between two patterns is enough to suggest a common source.