Context effects in forensic entomology and use of sequential unmasking in casework
Context effects are pervasive in forensic science, and are being recognized by a growing number of disciplines as a threat to objectivity. Cognitive processes can be affected by extraneous context information, and many proactive scientists are therefore introducing context-minimizing systems into their laboratories. Forensic entomologists are also subject to context effects, both in the processes they undertake (e.g., evidence collection) and decisions they make (e.g., whether an invertebrate taxon is found in a certain geographic area). We stratify the risk of bias into low, medium, and high for the decisions and processes undertaken by forensic entomologists, and propose that knowledge of the time the deceased was last seen alive is the most potentially biasing piece of information for forensic entomologists. Sequential unmasking is identified as the best system for minimizing context information, illustrated with the results of a casework trial (n = 19) using this approach in Victoria, Australia.