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Discord in the Communication of Forensic Science: Can the Science of Language Help Foster Shared Understanding?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 21:37 authored by Loene HowesLoene Howes, Nenagh KempNenagh Kemp
The criminal justice system is one arena in which nonscientists use scientific findings and expert opinions to aid decision making. Forensic science is a standard feature of criminal investigations, out-of-court settlements, and trials. Yet forensic science may be poorly understood by those who use it as a decision aid, with a consequent risk of contributing to miscarriages of justice. In this article, we discuss some of the contentious aspects of communicating expert opinion, and consider how research suggests that scientists might balance the competing concerns of scientific correctness and comprehensibility for nonscientists. Highlighting both research and theory, we argue that modifying language is a necessary component of ensuring understanding. However, the aim of transferring knowledge from a forensic scientist to a nonscientist is a complex task. Language modification alone is not sufficient; the practices and processes of communication require consideration. We argue that the dialogue and participation models of communication have much to offer to foster understanding of forensic science and enhance its value in the criminal justice system. We acknowledge some practical challenges to dialogue and participation approaches, and provide an example of how innovative organisational practices can help to facilitate effective interprofessional communication.


Publication title

Journal of Language and Social Psychology








School of Social Sciences


Sage Publications Inc

Place of publication

2455 Teller Rd, Thousand Oaks, USA, Ca, 91320

Rights statement

Copyright 2016 The Author(s)

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Criminal justice

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