Lead bullets as forensic evidence. Chance (Summer 2004)

Lead bullets as forensic evidence. Chance (Summer 2004) published an article on the use of lead bullets as forensic evidence in a federal criminal case. Typically, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will use a laboratory method to match the lead in a bullet found at a crime scene with unexpended lead cartridges found in the possession of a suspect. The value of this evidence depends on the chance of a false positive —that is, the probability that the FBI finds a match, given that the lead at the crime scene and the lead in the possession of the suspect are actually from two different “melts,” or sources. To estimate the false positive rate, the FBI collected 1,837 bullets that the agency was confident all came from different melts. Then, using its established criteria, the FBI examined every possible pair of bullets and counted the number of matches. According to Chance, the FBI found 693 matches. Use this information to compute the chance of a false positive. Is this probability small enough for you to have confidence in the FBI’s forensic evidence?

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