Parallel Speakers

Prof. dr. Marjan Sjerps

Prof. dr. Marjan Sjerps started working in 1993 at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) as a statistician, where she became involved in the emerging area of forensic statistics. Her activities include forensic statistics casework, teaching, consultation, and research. She acted as an expert witness in court on several occasions. She was appointed professor by special appointment at the University of Amsterdam in February 2010, which was extended in 2015 and 2020. Her research interests are interpretation, evaluation and reporting of forensic evidence: all aspects of probabilistic reasoning in the forensic process, from gathering evidence up to testifying in court.

The use of Bayesian networks for forensic probabilistic reasoning

“We have a match!” When a forensic expert says something like this in popular crime series about, e.g., DNA traces or pollen comparisons, it is often presented as conclusive evidence that the suspect is guilty and the case is solved. Unfortunately, the reality is not that simple. Forensic features are not necessarily unique, analysis results may vary, errors can be made, and traces may be planted or transferred for innocent reasons unrelated to the crime. Forensic statistics is about evidence interpretation and evaluation: what hypotheses are addressed by which piece of evidence, how strong is each piece of evidence, how do they combine, and what do they tell us about what happened in the case? The probabilistic reasoning that is required to answer these questions is facilitated by the use of Bayesian networks. In this presentation I will introduce this kind of forensic probabilistic reasoning and demonstrate the use of Bayesian networks in practice.

Dr.Thomas Nys

Thomas Nys teaches Ethics and Political Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. He mainly writes about autonomy and manipulation and recently translated (together with Henri Wijsbek) the book Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill.

The world, a prison?

In the late nineteenth century, Jeremy Bentham developed a revolutionary prison design that he called the Panopticon. This building would allow for a system detention that would focus less on physical violence and punishment, but rather on peaceful supervision and control. The idea of a “panopticon” became popularized through Michel Foucault’s analysis in his 1975 Surveillir et Punir. According to Foucault, Bentham’s prison would symbolize a far more general transition from a punitive to a disciplinary exercise of power. People would be ‘disciplined’ in school, armies, hospitals, end even in their sexuality and 9-to-5 jobs. Where power was once visible and palpable, it would now go almost unnoticed and be hidden in the structuring and shaping aspects of all kinds of (often liberal) institutions. The panopticon became a metaphor for society in which ‘free citizens’ – people who imagine themselves free – would imperceptibly ‘fall in line’ with the Government or Big Money. We can see Foucault’s analysis repeated in Shoshana Zuboff’s bestseller The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, where our online lives also take on a ‘pan-optical’ character. In this talk, I want to return to Bentham’s radical project in order to see if we can get past Foucault (and Zuboff) as well.

Mr. Richard Gerding

Richard Gerding is senior lecturer at the criminal department in the faculty of law of the University of Amsterdam. Before, he was a high court judge in Amsterdam and public prosecutor in Rotterdam. He published on subjects relating to fraud against the interest of the European Union.

Criminal law science: possibilities and pitfalls

Those who watch the show CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) may get the impression that gathering scientific evidence suffices to solve every possible crime. In real life, solving crimes and finding suspects isn’t that easy. Moreover, if a case is brought to court, the judge must decide whether or not there is enough evidence to convict the suspect. When interpreting scientific evidence, the judge has to rely on experts.

The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), together with the police, plays a very important role in gathering and interpreting forensic evidence. It has experts in almost every field e.g. biology (DNA), toxicology (Drugs) and computer science (breaking the codes of crypto phones). Therefore, the reports of the NFI are widely used in the day-to-day routine of the Netherlands criminal court. At the same time the judge must remain critical in interpreting the evidence that is brought before him. In my lecture I will focus on the question: given the report of the expert, is there enough evidence? I will challenge my audience with concrete real-life examples and invite the students to give their decision as if they were the judge.