On the interpretation of likelihood ratios in forensic science evidence: Presentation formats and the weak evidence effect

Forensic Sci Int. 2014 Jul:240:61-8. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2014.04.005. Epub 2014 Apr 14.


Likelihood ratios are increasingly being adopted to convey expert evaluative opinions to courts. In the absence of appropriate databases, many of these likelihood ratios will include verbal rather than numerical estimates of the support offered by the analysis. However evidence suggests that verbal formulations of uncertainty are a less effective form of communication than equivalent numerical formulations. Moreover, when evidence strength is low a misinterpretation of the valence of the evidence - a "weak evidence effect" - has been found. We report the results of an experiment involving N=404 (student and online) participants who read a brief summary of a burglary trial containing expert testimony. The expert evidence was varied across conditions in terms of evidence strength (low or high) and presentation method (numerical, verbal, table or visual scale). Results suggest that of these presentation methods, numerical expressions produce belief-change and implicit likelihood ratios which were most commensurate with those intended by the expert and most resistant to the weak evidence effect. These findings raise questions about the extent to which low strength verbal evaluative opinions can be effectively communicated to decision makers at trial.

Keywords: Communicating uncertainty; Evidence interpretation; Expert evaluative opinions; Likelihood ratios.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Criminal Law
  • Female
  • Forensic Sciences / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult