FBI Laboratory Publishes Major Handwriting Analysis Study
The FBI’s Laboratory Division, in conjunction with Noblis, Inc., published a major scientific research paper today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the accuracy and reliability of forensic handwriting comparison.
The paper, “Accuracy and Reliability of Forensic Handwriting Comparisons,” summarizes the results of a five-year project to examine how often forensic handwriting examiners reach correct conclusions when determining whether a document was written by a specific individual by comparing it to samples of known handwriting from that person. The FBI Laboratory undertook this research to provide estimates of error rates—how often document examiners make correct writership decisions—as well as how often an examiner reaches the same conclusion when seeing the same documents again, and how often other examiners reach the same conclusions.
This study is the largest of its kind, involving more than 80 document examiners from U.S. and international crime laboratories and private practice. Collectively, these examiners made more than 7,000 document comparisons and provided information with which to correlate results to levels of education and experience, along with other metadata.
“This large-scale study demonstrates the commitment of the FBI and our partners to critically evaluate forensic examinations widely used throughout the criminal justice system,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Using scientific rigor to affirm the accuracy and reliability of forensic techniques helps protect the integrity of our judicial process and ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law.”
The study is part of a portfolio of research projects conducted by the FBI Laboratory to evaluate the accuracy, repeatability, and reproducibility of pattern evidence examiner decisions. It was modeled after a highly acclaimed 2011 FBI Laboratory study about the accuracy and reliability of fingerprint examiner decisions, which is widely regarded within the forensic community as a gold standard in pattern evidence study design. That research project formed the basic design for this study and resulted in more than 15 scientific publications to date.