Use of prior odds for missing persons identifications

Bruce Budowle, Jianye Ge, Ranajit Chakraborty, Harrell Gill-King

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

28 Scopus citations


Identification of missing persons from mass disasters is based on evaluation of a number of variables and observations regarding the combination of features derived from these variables. DNA typing now is playing a more prominent role in the identification of human remains, and particularly so for highly decomposed and fragmented remains. The strength of genetic associations, by either direct or kinship analyses, is often quantified by calculating a likelihood ratio. The likelihood ratio can be multiplied by prior odds based on nongenetic evidence to calculate the posterior odds, that is, by applying Bayes' Theorem, to arrive at a probability of identity. For the identification of human remains, the path creating the set and intersection of variables that contribute to the prior odds needs to be appreciated and well defined. Other than considering the total number of missing persons, the forensic DNA community has been silent on specifying the elements of prior odds computations. The variables include the number of missing individuals, eyewitness accounts, anthropological features, demographics and other identifying characteristics. The assumptions, supporting data and reasoning that are used to establish a prior probability that will be combined with the genetic data need to be considered and justified. Otherwise, data may be unintentionally or intentionally manipulated to achieve a probability of identity that cannot be supported and can thus misrepresent the uncertainty with associations. The forensic DNA community needs to develop guidelines for objectively computing prior odds.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15
JournalInvestigative Genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 27 Jun 2011


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