Home' InDaily : February 25th 2010 Contents Vol 21 No 1 February 2010 | 7
Key role for social scientists in public policy
TV crime a forensics two-edged sword
Professor Phyllis Tharenou
Professor Adrian Linacre
"What really attracted me to Flinders is
that, working with FSSA, the University
has the opportunity to link teaching,
research and real forensic science
practice to develop a really strong
forensic course. That's why I'm excited to
come over," he said.
Television shows based on crime scene
investigations may have increased
community awareness of forensic science
-- but they have also given lawyers, jurors
and the general public unrealistic
expectations about the discipline.
Dr Adrian Linacre, newly appointed as the
inaugural Justice Chair in Forensic DNA
Technology at Flinders University, said the
popularity of shows such as CSI was a
"Media reports of murder cases and high
profile crime quite often refer to the
forensic science, which is great -- it's good
to have that profile," Dr Linacre said.
"But the downside is that when you're
giving evidence in court, many people
have an unreal perception of what
forensic science can do," he said.
"Nothing ever fails in CSI. You never get a
'no result'. But in real life, that's
unfortunately what often happens. And
in CSI it all happens in a hour."
Dr Linacre has presented evidence in such
high profile cases as the manslaughter of
The vexed nature of big environmental
issues like climate change and water
security underscore the role that social
scientists can play in the development of
public policy, according to Professor
The new Executive Dean of Flinders
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
says that understanding human
behaviour is an important ingredient in
achieving the cultural change required to
address issues like climate change.
Professor Tharenou said that governments
can make decisions that change peoples'
behaviour but the ultimate success of a
particular policy response relies on
generating attitudinal changes.
"The problem with social science issues is
that you don't have an automatic
converter like you do, for example, in
medicine, where everyone is concerned
about cancer. We all want a cure and you
don't have to convince people of the
merits of curing cancer," Professor
Tharenou told Flinders Journal.
"But compare cancer with
climate change. Climate
change is not solely a
technical issue, it's a social
science issue. We have most
of the technical knowledge
about climate change at
this minute to affect a
positive outcome. The
problem is our attitude to
climate change, we cannot
agree on it," she said.
"If you are looking to achieve broad
cultural change, then our sociologists
can look at society as a whole,
psychologists can look at groups and
individuals, and the economists can
analyse the cost and the return on
investment for the community.
"All of these social scientists can
contribute to an understanding of how
people might respond to a government
initiative on climate change or water
management. Making that knowledge
available can inform and contribute to
On a personal level, Professor Tharenou
said she combined her study of
psychology and teaching of
management theory and practice in a
career that has included positions at
Monash University, University of South
Australia, University of Queensland,
Griffith University, the Queensland
Institute of Technology and, most
recently, the Australian Research Council.
"I've always been interested in bringing a
number of disciplines to solving
problems. In my case it's been psychology
and management," she said.
Damilola Taylor, the 10-year-old Nigerian
schoolboy who died in Greater London in
2000 after being attacked with a broken
beer bottle by two youths.
Since 1994, Dr Linacre has worked at the
prestigious Centre for Forensic Science at
Strathclyde University in Glasgow,
specialising in DNA profiling for human
identification and the investigation of
"The vast majority of my work is spent on
human identification. But I became
interested in non-human DNA when I
started being presented with 'associated
evidence', such as a hair sample from a
dog or cat," he said.
"I realised that it was possible to link this
evidence with a robbery or a murder."
Dr Linacre takes up the position of Justice
Chair in Forensic DNA Technology, made
possible through the financial support of
the SA Department of Justice through
Forensic Science South Australia (FSSA),
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