Thursday, June 12, 2008

Critical Thinking in Investigation

by Donna Weaver

I heard a great line on an old Charlie Chan movie last night: "The mind is like a parachute--it is only useful when open."

We all carry around our own preconceived ideas and opinions on issues of small and large importance whether we consciously realize its or not. We are continuously bombarded with information from newspapers, radio, television, and personal contact designed to influence our opinion. Critical thinking can help us evaluate material from all these sources:

What is the statement or claim, and who is making it?

Before you accept information as fact, determine if the person has something to gain. Then ask yourself if your own assumptions or preconceptions have created bias or influence how you view the speaker's statements or ideas. Great credibility is awarded to public figures and persons in positions of authority, and while we can learn from them on subjects within their field of expertise, their statements or claims should not prevent you from asking good questions of your own.

Are there other plausible explanations for the statement or claim (or event)?

It is possible to have two or more explanations that explain an event or claim. The Law of Parsimony says we should accept the simpler explanation that requires the least number of assumptions.

When events or behaviors appear to be correlated, it does not prove that one event or behavior caused the other. Further investigation is required to discover if they are related because of a third event or behavior.

For an objective evaluation of facts and evidence, bias must be identified and removed and scientific inquiry applied to produce reliable results and appropriate conclusions.

Scientific principles are the foundation of all scientific inquiry. Modern forensic and other biological sciences are supported by three thoroughly tested and validated principles.
  • Natural casualty-all events can be traced to natural causes within our ability to understand.
  • Uniformity in space and time--natural laws do not change with time or distance .
  • Common perception--people view natural events in a similar manner. Common perception applies only to scientific study because it is limited to objective observations that produce reliable information. Common perception does not apply to subjective value systems that vary among individuals such as religious, moral, or cultural beliefs and personal views, or opinion.

Yes, Deductive Criminal Profiling and Behavior Analysis is a scientific endeavor because it uses the scientific method to draw conclusions based on known facts borne of objective observations, considered thought, accurate communication, skill, and experience. A criminal profile is derived from crime scene analysis, including physical evidence and Victimology, critical thinking, analytical logic, evidence dynamics, and other scientific principles used in forensics.

The scientific method is applied to these elements producing logical deductions that lead to well-reasoned conclusions about offender characteristics and behavior. Each offender characteristic is based on the premise that if the underlying facts and evidence are proven to be true, then so must be the logical conclusions arrived at by studying them. Imagine the effect bias, no matter how small, can have on making observations when evaluating evidence and other investigative tasks.

Those in law enforcement and related fields as well as those in other professions who work closely with the general public on an individual basis are taught to maintain an emotional distance from the people they interact with in order to be objective, thorough and accurate in the performance of their duty. Since these types of professionals often meet individuals experiencing trauma, or some other extremely personal or stressful event, great importance is placed on leaving ones emotions at the door.

Sorry, but lack of emotion does not equal objectivity-- nor does it always increase productivity . In the last 24 years, I have met many investigators who were the “no emotion” type. I can’t think of one who was not a total jerk with the personality of a wet dishrag, often with poor interview skills. Getting people to open up and trust you can be critical in successful investigations.

Conversely, an effective criminal profiler or investigator must possess a range of valuable professional characteristics including an enduring passion for examining facts, seeking answers, and resolving cases combined with the unwavering self-discipline to put aside personal opinions, pride, and career ambition.

Taking pride in one's work or wanting a successful career is not a bad thing. The emotions of passion and empathy provide a powerful motivation to to deliver a dedicated effort. On the other hand, arrogance and overweening ambition are often common sources of bias that need to be identified and analyzed to limit their influence on deductions and conclusions.

It is entirely possible to perform objective analysis and evaluation of crime scenes, victims, witnesses, and evidence without being an emotionless robot if one remains vigilant through the use of critical thinking techniques and scientific method.

1 comment:

Gluttony said...

That is a very good way to put it...