An interesting read based on research conducted in the US to determine the link between social cynicism and unethical behaviour. This relationship between social cynicism and ethical behaviour, is also often encountered in the field of forensic document examination in South Africa.

The negative impact of elitism on the forensic document examination industry

In our own country, we witness the same social cynicism in every field of work, including that of document examiner.  Depending on how you acquired your skills, your are regarded as more or less competent.

The irony is that it is not necessarily how or where you acquired your skills, but how you apply them post training.  A further element is how you go about continuous professional development in a world of knowledge which is in a constant and accelerated state of evolution and development.

The saying, ‘a bad workman always blames his tools’ can equally be turned around to ‘because I received my training at X Institution or organisation, my training is better than yours.’ So the claim therefore is that the ‘tools’ make the professional.  But another variable comes into play here.  The training may be good, but have you and are you applying it effectively?

In our country we have just witnessed school children from the most poverty stricken school environments, achieve distinctions.   They didn’t have all the resources (tools), but they made it their business to become knowledgeable and skilled.   Their determination, motivation and conscientiousness raised them above the challenges. It wasn’t only the ‘tools’ but the motivation, positive attitude and conscientiousness, which allowed them to achieve.

The same principle applies to the document examiner in South Africa.  Since there are no accredited institutions for the training of document examiners in South Africa, those who have the skills have acquired them in a variety of ways.  Since there are no accredited institutions for training, can one group claim to have superior training to any other?   The response to that question is a resounding no.  But apart from that, it doesn’t matter how renowned the training institute may be, why is it that some achieve great heights post training, while others maintain mediocrity?  Surely then it is based on more than the school you attended?

Social Cynicism, Ethics and Forensic Document Examination

In the forensic document examination environment, there are those who do their best to discredit others, and who claim to be the best.  These are individuals who hide behind a facade, not sure of their ability to provide a sound argument.  They turn negative attention to those who they feel threatened by, or those they mistrust based on where their training was completed.

In my own experience one such individual and the advocate team, did their utmost to prevent my presenting my findings.  The document examiner claimed to be among the best, but in the examination, used the known writing of three individuals as standards believing they belonged to the suspect.   Forensic document examination 101 states that you have to be absolutely sure of the standards against which you are comparing the questioned writing.  When this was pointed out, ostensibly redid the examination and came to the same conclusion.  Perhaps a gun for hire? The ethics in this case was undoubtedly not beyond reproach.  In an attempt to prove superiority, resorting to unethical behaviour was an option.



Social Cynicism

Clearly your superiority (if there is such a phenomenon) cannot therefore be determined by where you received  training.  Human behaviour is a significant factor in determining competency in any field.   As document examiners,  frequent introspection is necessary to maintain professionalism towards others in the profession as well as those we serve. Document examiners should consciously avoid social cynicism which does nothing positive for the profession.

Prof Burgess, in his article, outlines the negative effects of social cynicism.