Compositional Data Analysis in Forensic Geoscience

Jennifer McKinley, Rory Flood, Alastair Ruffell, Duncan Pirrie

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Statistics are regularly used to make some form of comparison between trace evidence or deploy the exclusionary principle (Morgan and Bull, 2007) in forensic investigations. Trace evidence are routinely the results of particle size, chemical or modal analyses and as such constitute compositional data. The issue is that compositional data including percentages, parts per million etc. only carry relative information. This may be problematic where a comparison of percentages and other constraint/closed data is deemed a statistically valid and appropriate way to present trace evidence in a court of law. Notwithstanding an awareness of the existence of the constant sum problem since the seminal works of Pearson (1896) and Chayes (1960) and the introduction of the application of log-ratio techniques (Aitchison, 1986; Pawlowsky-Glahn and Egozcue, 2001; Pawlowsky-Glahn and Buccianti, 2011; Tolosana-Delgado and van den Boogaart, 2013) the problem that a constant sum destroys the potential independence of variances and covariances required for correlation regression analysis and empirical multivariate methods (principal component analysis, cluster analysis, discriminant analysis, canonical correlation) is all too often not acknowledged in the statistical treatment of trace evidence. Yet the need for a robust treatment of forensic trace evidence analyses is obvious. This research examines the issues and potential pitfalls for forensic investigators if the constant sum constraint is ignored in the analysis and presentation of forensic trace evidence. Forensic case studies involving particle size and mineral analyses as trace evidence are used to demonstrate the use of a compositional data approach using a centred log-ratio (clr) transformation and multivariate statistical analyses.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 05 Jun 2015
EventCoDaWork 2015 - Spain, L'Escala, Spain
Duration: 01 Jun 201505 Jun 2015


WorkshopCoDaWork 2015


  • Forensic Science; Geoforensics; soils; landforms; crime; burials
  • compositional data,


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