“Noble cause casuistry” in forensic genetics.

Matthias Wienroth*, Carole McCartney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the forensic genetics community, too often one can find what we have called “noble cause casuistry”: scientists believing that, “since we are catching criminals, any ethical shortfalls in our work are negated by good outcomes.” Such casuistry is also characterized by the extrapolation of “success” in individual case work to assumptions of reliability and usefulness for all forensic genetic applications, in all contexts. The increasing and deepening interaction of forensic (epi)genetics technologies with broader surveillance logics, is also rarely problematized within the community, with a notable reticence to address fundamental and complex questions about the role of forensic genetics in society. Furthermore, despite some initial progress, forensic genetics largely remains content to be guided by “thin” empiricist ethics, foregrounding notions that “maths does not lie,” with little acknowledgement of the serious limitations of this approach. Outside of laboratory settings, social and cultural effects of forensic genetics technology alter regardless of the “maths.” As such, the field needs to adopt an ethos that centralizes and deepens their ethical bona fides, approaching ethics as “lived practice,” with community accountability similar to other public‐serving professions and disciplines. This could commence with a commitment to professionalism, with a robust ethos grounded in both integrity and social justice. This article is categorized under: Forensic Biology > Ethical and Social Implications
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1502
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalWIREs Forensic Science
Early online date19 Oct 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Oct 2023

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