Chicago Tribune: Unscientific report on eyewitness reforms in Illinois was so flawed it is unreliable


Social scientists were surprised last year when a non-scientific report from several Illinois police departments challenged the effectiveness of major eyewitness identification reforms taking root nationwide. The Illinois report was used to defeat reform legislation in several states – but a new analysis by some of the nation’s leading social scientists says the Illinois report’s methodology was so flawed that it is unreliable. The Chicago Tribune reports today that a new peer-reviewed psychology article “panned” the Illinois report and called for more research in this field to produce data that is scientifically valid and reliable.

While the debate raged on, a panel of social scientists and experts, including Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University, who had no previous stake in the issue, started a peer review of the study. They analyzed the Illinois pilot program's report, as well as critiques and support of the report, before writing the review, which is being published in the APA's Law and Human Behavior journal.

If the Illinois pilot program had been designed correctly, it would have compared "sequential" lineups, in which a witness is shown a person or photo one at a time, to "simultaneous" lineups, in which potential suspects are shown in a group, but it would have used an administrator who doesn't know who the suspect is in both. That method is called the "double-blind" method.

Comparing group and individual lineups, while at the same time using some administrators who knew suspects and some who didn't, was like comparing "apples to dolphins," said James Doyle, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Center for Modern Forensic Practice, which coordinated the panel review.

"Just putting the two of them together doesn't make it a scientific review," Doyle said. "You've changed two variables at once. You can't do that."

Read the full article here

. (Chicago Tribune, 07/30/07)

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