Depiction of the Dead: ethical challenges and cognitive bias
Caroline Wilkinson (Liverpool John Moores University)
Kathryn Smith (Liverpool John Moores University)
SOAS Senate House - S116
Start time:
3 June, 2018 at 13:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

How does cognitive bias affect forensic facial depiction or the depiction of the faces of people from the past in archaeological investigations? What are the ethical challenges associated with facial images of the deceased and their presentation?

Long abstract:

The depiction of faces of the deceased can be controversial and challenging, both in production and presentation. How do we balance the aims of public exhibition with the complexities of facial perception and appreciation, and do contemporary digital technologies present new and multifaceted challenges? This panel welcomes papers discussing the ethical challenges of presentation of faces of the dead. In addition, cognitive bias may affect the decisions we make relating to facial appearance and public exhibition, and this applies to both forensic and archaeological applications. Facial depictions utilised in forensic identifications and archaeological investigations are not portraits and cannot wholly represent the appearance of the subject. Yet in forensic cases there is a fundamental struggle between the objective of recognition/identification and the desire to produce a realistic and accurate image, and in archaeological cases there is a similar balance necessary between evidence-based and subjective interpretation. How do we make the decisions relating to skin colour, eye colour, hair colour/style, clothing, signs of ageing, BMI, pathology, trauma and ethnic group, and how do we know that these decisions do not reflect the cognitive bias associated with our understanding of ancient or contemporary populations? This panel also welcomes papers that debate the challenges associated with the depiction of people from the past and/or contemporary forensic casework, especially in relation to cognitive bias and interpretation.