Infracranial radiographic comparison for human identification: A study of image quality and tissue shielding effects

Te Wai Pounamu T. Hona, John E. Byrd, Carl N. Stephan


In this study, we explore how image resolution and tissue shielding can impact correct classification rates (CCRs) of infracranial radiographic comparisons undertaken using small field‐of‐view radiographs. Thirty‐six identification arrays (using clavicles and seventh cervical vertebra) were constructed with each array comprised of five radiographs: one X‐ray of a single dry bone (postmortem [PM] skeletal image) and four simulated antemortem [AM] radiographs (radiographs taken pre‐skeletization). One AM radiograph in each array represented the ground truth match to the PM radiograph (=25% rate of randomly selecting the correct match). Radiographs were digitally manipulated, so that four varieties of decreasing blur (Gaussian blur = 12–0 pr across 24 arrays), and, for PM clavicles, four varieties of decreasing hard tissue shielding (opacity of 40–0% across 12 arrays) existed. Arrays were evaluated, for their correct PM/AM pair, by 8 anthropologists trained in chest radiograph comparison (CXR; either currently or formerly competency certified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency CXR training program), 28 current American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA) diplomates and 30 novices. Analysts' CCRs substantially improved when Gaussian blur was <10 pr (55% CCR at >10 pr vs. 89% for <10 pr). Tissue shielding effects increased CCRs on average by +10% for each −10% opacity step (between 40–0% opacity). The CXR anthropologists were the most tolerant of the more challenging identification contexts (highest blur and opacity), reconfirming that analyst training and expertise is an important factor, especially when poorer quality radiographic images are the subject of analysis.