Inference about the number of contributors to a DNA mixture: Comparative analyses of a Bayesian network approach and the maximum allele count method
In the forensic examination of DNA mixtures, the question of how to set the total number of contributors (N) presents a topic of ongoing interest. Part of the discussion gravitates around issues of bias, in particular when assessments of the number of contributors are not made prior to considering the genotypic configuration of potential donors. Further complication may stem from the observation that, in some cases, there may be numbers of contributors that are incompatible with the set of alleles seen in the profile of a mixed crime stain, given the genotype of a potential contributor. In such situations, procedures that take a single and fixed number contributors as their output can lead to inferential impasses. Assessing the number of contributors within a probabilistic framework can help avoiding such complication. Using elements of decision theory, this paper analyses two strategies for inference on the number of contributors. One procedure is deterministic and focuses on the minimum number of contributors required to 'explain' an observed set of alleles. The other procedure is probabilistic using Bayes' theorem and provides a probability distribution for a set of numbers of contributors, based on the set of observed alleles as well as their respective rates of occurrence. The discussion concentrates on mixed stains of varying quality (i.e., different numbers of loci for which genotyping information is available). A so-called qualitative interpretation is pursued since quantitative information such as peak area and height data are not taken into account. The competing procedures are compared using a standard scoring rule that penalizes the degree of divergence between a given agreed value for N, that is the number of contributors, and the actual value taken by N. Using only modest assumptions and a discussion with reference to a casework example, this paper reports on analyses using simulation techniques and graphical models (i.e., Bayesian networks) to point out that setting the number of contributors to a mixed crime stain in probabilistic terms is, for the conditions assumed in this study, preferable to a decision policy that uses categoric assumptions about N. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.