The science of peer review in forensic investigation

A forensic investigation of a failure or accident in the built environment is the scientific method in action, like it is in many fields of study. (Ref. 1) It goes through the same systematic stepped process as the scientific method, or it should.

Peer review by a forensic expert’s colleagues – the last stage in a forensic investigation – checks that this has happened. In a sense, peer review is the scientific method in action again.

The following 10 steps in the scientific method are well known – it’s not rocket science. The actual tasks carried out at each step during a forensic investigation are less well known but easy to understand. For example, what’s simpler to understand in the following than “Reading documents” in Step #2?:

  1. Problem: The problem is determination of the cause of the failure or accident.
  2. Observation: Get briefed on what is known about the failure or accident. Read documents. Walk over the site and visually examine where the accident or failure occurred.
  3. Hypothesis: Note the possible cause of the incident based on the evidence from the briefing, reading the documents and visually examining the site of the failure or accident.
  4. Experiment: Identify investigations suggested by the possible cause. Investigations like a) the layout of the site, b) the size of the site and its components, c) maintenance of the site, and, d) activity at the site when the accident or failure happened. Re-enact the accident.
  5. Collect data: Note the data got from each of these investigations.
  6. Analyze results: Note the cause of the failure or accident as indicated by each piece of data. Note where there is agreement and disagreement amongst the data on cause. Identify additional investigations that could be carried out. Carry out these investigations and analyze the data.
  7. Conclusion: Note the probable cause of the accident or failure based on the analysis. Note other possible causes and the data supporting these, and why these causes were dismissed.
  8. Form opinion: Form and state opinion on the cause of the accident or failure.
  9. Report: Report in detail what was done during each step in the investigation according to the guidance of civil procedure rules like Rule 55 in Nova Scotia and manuals on expert report writing.
  10. Peer review: Review what was done during each step of the investigation and it’s conformance to the standard of practice and what a reasonable person would do.


I thought to blog on this topic – science in forensic investigation – when the extent of observation in forensic investigation kept coming to mind. Subjective observation compared to objective field and laboratory testing. (Refs 2 to 4) And how peer review ensures the forensic investigation including its subjective observations is properly carried out.

It was while researching this topic that I realized a forensic investigation and it’s peer review are both examples of the scientific method in action. The penny dropped again when I realized the simplicity of the scientific method – a bunch of simple steps. Others have seen this hence the wide application of the scientific method to the simplest of problems. (Ref. 1)


  1. Google “scientific method” and be surprised like I was at it’s wide and sometimes simple application.
  2. One forensic observation does not a cause make. Posted July 18, 2023
  3. Observational Method: Example #1 Posted July 31, 2023
  4. Observational Method: Example #2 Posted August 29, 2023

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada November 30, 2023