Scattered Episode 19: Cognitive Bias and Forensic Anthropology – Interview with Dr. Sherry Nakhaeizadeh

Dr. Sherry Nakhaeizadeh is a Lecturer in Crime and Forensic Science at University College London Centre for the Forensic Sciences. “Sherry’s background and research interest lies within forensic science interpretations specifically looking at cognitive and human factors. She is currently interested in the application of technological advancement and AI approaches in method development in forensic anthropology as well as using such technologies to understand the interpretive process and expertise in complex visual tasks applied within forensic anthropology specifically, and forensic science broadly” (UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences).

In this episode we talk about:

  • Sherry’s educational journey, from archaeology in Sweden to forensic anthropology and cognitive bias in the UK.
  • how working with archaeological samples of populations is quite different to modern forensic populations, and the limits of working with archaeological samples. For example, a Viking skeletal sample thought to be male because of the grave contents was found through DNA analysis to, instead, be female.
  • the methods used on skeletal remains in archaeology and forensic contexts are similar, but the stakes are very different.
  • the transparency and awareness regarding biases and limits in scientific methods used in forensic investigations. 
  • some of Sherry’s experiences working with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City, what an expert is, the tension between science and the courts, and to whom the duty of the forensic anthropologist lies.
  • how receiving criticism and debating science helped push her to constructively question her research and evolve.
  • Sherry’s research on how grave context can influence decisions regarding the osteobiological profile, increasing awareness of cognitive bias to modify decision-making processes to minimize the adverse impact of bias.
  • how bias isn’t bad, but we do need to understand it. As human beings, we view the world subjectively, and how to increase our awareness of our perception and biases.
  • technology and how archaeology embraces uncertainty.

Sherry’s webpage at University College London (UCL):

We refer to the following articles:
Nakhaeizadeh, S., Dror, I.E. & Morgan, R.M. (2014). Cognitive bias in forensic anthropology: Visual assessment of skeletal remains is susceptible to confirmation bias. Science and Justice 54 (3): 208 – 214.

Nakhaeizadeh, N., Morgan, R.M., Rando, C., Dror, I.E., (2017) Cascading Bias of Initial Exposure to Information at the Crime Scene to the Subsequent Evaluation of Skeletal Remains. Journal of Forensic Science doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13569.

Dror, I.E., Morgan, R.M., Rando, C., Nakhaeizadeh, N., (2017) The bias snowball and the bias cascade effects: Two distinct biases that may impact forensic decision making have been received. Journal of Forensic Sciences doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13569

Nakhaeizadeh, S., Morgan, R.M., Olsson, V., Arvidsson, M. & Thompson, T. (2020). The value of eye-tracking technology in the analysis and interpretations of skeletal remains: A pilot study. Science & Justice 60(1): 36-42.

Miscellaneous notes from the start of the episode:

Do you have a suggestion for a topic on the Scattered podcast?

Do you have a question about working with human remains?

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