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J Forensic Sci. 2016 Mar;61(2):445-451. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.12962. Epub 2016 Mar 7.

Interobserver Reliability of the Total Body Score System for Quantifying Human Decomposition.

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Southern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology, 1000 Faner Dr., Mail Code 4502, Carbondale, IL, 62901.
Colorado Mesa University, Forensic Investigation Research Station, 1100 North Avenue, Grand Junction, CO, 81501.
Sam Houston State University, Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility, Box 2296, Huntsville, Texas, 77341.


Several authors have tested the accuracy of the Total Body Score (TBS) method for quantifying decomposition, but none have examined the reliability of the method as a scoring system by testing interobserver error rates. Sixteen participants used the TBS system to score 59 observation packets including photographs and written descriptions of 13 human cadavers in different stages of decomposition (postmortem interval: 2-186 days). Data analysis used a two-way random model intraclass correlation in SPSS (v. 17.0). The TBS method showed "almost perfect" agreement between observers, with average absolute correlation coefficients of 0.990 and average consistency correlation coefficients of 0.991. While the TBS method may have sources of error, scoring reliability is not one of them. Individual component scores were examined, and the influences of education and experience levels were investigated. Overall, the trunk component scores were the least concordant. Suggestions are made to improve the reliability of the TBS method.


Total Body Score; decomposition; forensic anthropology; forensic science; interobserver error; reliability; taphonomy

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