by Simon A. Cole
The need for human-identification systems began when modern societies became too large for everybody to know everyone else around them. The potential for anonymity was especially problematic when authorities needed to identify criminals. Cole’s comprehensive study considers the precursors to fingerprinting, such as body branding, photography, and an identification system in which body parts were measured and recorded. Such techniques, reveals the author, were biased against minority races and ethnic groups. Cole traces the development of fingerprinting from William Herschel’s and Henry Faulds’ systems based on unique patterns and orderly records to modern legal evidence that matches points in prints. Though fingerprinting became widely accepted in the 20th century, its credibility has recently been diminished. DNA typing has greatly undermined the authority of fingerprinting, Cole writes. Nevertheless, he encourages skepticism concerning DNA typing, as well.
HUP, 2001, 369 p., b&w; photos/illus., hardcover
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Copyright 2001, Science Service