, Volume 127, Issue 1, pp 213-223
Date: 28 Feb 2012

Strengthen forensic entomology in court—the need for data exploration and the validation of a generalised additive mixed model

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Developmental data of juvenile blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) are typically used to calculate the age of immature stages found on or around a corpse and thus to estimate a minimum post-mortem interval (PMImin). However, many of those data sets don't take into account that immature blow flies grow in a non-linear fashion. Linear models do not supply a sufficient reliability on age estimates and may even lead to an erroneous determination of the PMImin. According to the Daubert standard and the need for improvements in forensic science, new statistic tools like smoothing methods and mixed models allow the modelling of non-linear relationships and expand the field of statistical analyses. The present study introduces into the background and application of these statistical techniques by analysing a model which describes the development of the forensically important blow fly Calliphora vicina at different temperatures. The comparison of three statistical methods (linear regression, generalised additive modelling and generalised additive mixed modelling) clearly demonstrates that only the latter provided regression parameters that reflect the data adequately. We focus explicitly on both the exploration of the data—to assure their quality and to show the importance of checking it carefully prior to conducting the statistical tests—and the validation of the resulting models. Hence, we present a common method for evaluating and testing forensic entomological data sets by using for the first time generalised additive mixed models.