Evaluating expertise in forensic anthropology

Nicholas V. Passalacqua, Natalie R. Langley, Marin A. Pilloud, Maria Teresa A. Tersigni-Tarrant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The medicolegal system relies on the ability of experts and non-experts alike to make judgments about expertise and use those judgments to reach consequential decisions. Given the lack of standard criteria, mandatory certification, or licensure for establishing expertise required to practice forensic anthropology and testify as an expert witness, we sought to understand how individuals assess and identify expertise in forensic anthropology by using a social science tool called the Imitation Game. This tool assesses immersion in a specific area of study via discourse, with the premise that some individuals lacking expertise themselves imitate or attempt to pass as experts. For this project we recruited volunteers with varying expertise in forensic anthropology to participate in interviews which asked questions about the practice and structure of the discipline. Those interviews were transcribed, anonymized, and evaluated by other recruited individuals with varying expertise in forensic anthropology. Results found that judges who were experts in forensic anthropology performed better than non-expert judges in determining who was not an expert in forensic anthropology based on their anonymized responses; however, nearly half of the non-experts were still able to pass as experts in forensic anthropology. The difficulties in assessing expertise based on discourse interactions demonstrates the value and need for well-defined credentials and mandatory certification to practice forensic anthropology. This study demonstrates that accurately identifying expertise in forensic anthropology may be challenging for both experts and non-experts, especially when relying solely on interactional expertise rather than formal assessments of competency which directly elucidate contributory expertise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1111-1120
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • competency
  • education
  • expertise
  • forensic anthropology
  • knowledge
  • professional identity
  • professionalism
  • training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


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