October 20, 2006
Handwriting Identification in the News
According to the New York Times today, a handwriting expert, Gus Lesnevich, who was hired by Brooke Astor's court appointed lawyer, has concluded that Mrs. Astor's signature on a change to her will is a forgery. Lesnevich, according to the story, said that
Mrs. Astor “could not have written the questioned ‘Brooke Russell Astor’ signature dated March 3, 2004, due to the deterioration of her ability to write her name.”
Mr. Lesnevich reviewed examples of Mrs. Astor’s signature going as far back as 1992. In his report, he asserts that “in this case, the questioned ‘Brooke Russell Astor’ signature and known signatures of Brooke Russell Astor contain elements of dissimilar letter formations” and dissimilar “execution.” He said the 2004 signature was different from signatures executed less than a month earlier and about six weeks before that.
As we document in our treatise, Modern Scientific Evidence, the empirical validity of the field of handwriting identification is questionable, at best. The Times' story does not give any more detail regarding the expert's conclusion (See full story here. ), but what is provided is a rather thin reed on which to hang such a momentous opinion. His conclusion appears to be based on a combination of biomedical physiological assessment and variability of handwriting in the elderly, premises that almost certainly have either no empirical basis, or which this expert has no expertise. The signature may indeed be a forgery (or not), but no one should think that the expert's opinion on this matter is founded on sound scientific authority.
October 19, 2006
Although perhaps not on-point to the subject of this blog, a story in Science today regarding sleep deprivation and memory is quite interesting nonetheless. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker, from Harvard, found that students who had gone without sleep the night before did considerably (and significantly) worse in a word-memory task than students who had a normal night's sleep. The sleep-deprived students recalled about 40% fewer words. The researchers found, however, that words with strong negative connotations were remembered better (e.g., cancer or jail) than those with positive associations (e.g., sunshine or happy). The researchers suggested that the brain might remember negative words better under such circumstances, because such skills were adaptive in evolutionary terms. In a follow-up study, fMRI skans indicated that sleep-deprived students had less activity in the hippocampus. The story explains that "[t]his suggests that just as sleep is important for consolidating new memories after they're learned, as other studies have shown, it's equally important for preparing the brain to learn new things the following day." The full story can be found here.