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An old parable says that the Zen Master Fa-Yen, was once asked by an initiate, “What is the First Principle?” Fa-Yen replied, “If I should tell you, it would become the Second Principle.” This terse rejoinder describes how most forensic scientists approach the philosophic basis of their discipline: If I should tell you, it would no longer be what it is. Many in the field are of the opinion that we have been applying our methods for too long without sufficient consideration for the underlying principles of what we do. What are “class characteristics”? What is an “association”? We assume we know what these mean but in an open discussion between forensic scientists about our individual assumptions, disagreement would invariably ensue.
FBI Laboratory, Trace Evidence Unit, Washington, D.C.
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