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Q: Are Fingerprints unique? ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   10 Comments )
Subject: Are Fingerprints unique?
Category: Science > Biology
Asked by: pjordan-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 01 Feb 2003 15:12 PST
Expires: 03 Mar 2003 15:12 PST
Question ID: 156139
Which of these statements that is most true and why.

1. Fingerprints are very complex, random, and intricate, so much so,
probability states that with the amount of humans
on the earth at any given time, they will likely have the appearance
of being unique to us.

2. Fingerprints, by definition are inherently unique. A Fingerprint
has not, is not and will not be repeated.

For example:
What determines the design on you fingerprint, has nothing to do with
the longevity of the human race, right? Said that, theoretically the
human race can go on indefinitely. In other words, If we don't destroy
ourselves, we will be able to colonize some other planet, by
time ours explodes (or whatever happens in the next billion years).

The most important point is that one does not bear on the other. What
determines the complexity of your design and pore pattern on the tip
of your finger, does not affect us getting off this planet. Vice

Said all that, if we could go on indefinitely, wouldn't our
fingerprint designs (possibilities) have to be infinite? To have such
a robust "array" of fingerprints, it would only seem that some of us
could look down, at our fingertips, and see a 7-11 logo. Or maybe an
outline of a penguin ;-) If the human race "can" go on forever, so
would our unique fingerprints. That would mean that everything would
eventually be on the tip of our fingers at one point or another.

There have been billions of people before us. There will be billions
and billions after us. To say that the design and pore pattern on the
tip of our fingers is unique, is simply an elementary mistake IMO.

In Conclusion:
I am just asking because it seems like everyone just assumes that
fingerprints are definitely unique, and I don't see why they would be.
 I think too many people just listen to watered down regurgitated
facts and assume them, on face value. Doesn't anybody think for
themselves nowadays? Or... Or... am I an idiot? (I am not going to pay
for that answer though <G>)

BTW if your just gonna say, "why have we not found a match yet", then
save it. That is a very narrow minded and short sighted answer. I
think there is actually a very very small amount of fingerprints in a
single system that allows comparison, maybe only a few billion I would
think. Considering everyone has 10 fingers (most everyone) and how far
back our history goes, we are talking a big big number. Am

Do I not know about some sort of AUTO_INCREMENT in biology??

Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
Answered By: tisme-ga on 01 Feb 2003 15:59 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hello pjordan,

After doing some research on how fingerprints are formed, this is the
reply that I can give you:

Fingerprints are very complex, random, and intricate, so much so,
probability states with high confidence, that a fingerprint has not,
and will not ever be repeated.

That is not to say that is has not happened, or will never happen...
but I doubt that any person who tries to say in a court, "those
fingerprints belong to somebody else with the exact same design as
mine" will ever be successful.

Here is an excerpt from an internet article that I recommend that you

"1.  Fingerprint patterns are formed based on tension across the
finger during the beginning of a very critical stage of development at
around 10 weeks Estimated Gestational Age.  Without getting into too
much detail, a host of factors affect the tension across the skin, and
therefore the pattern that results.  Fingerprint patterns are unique
because the tensions that direct ridge alignment can never be
duplicated.  Sure, we have placed certain definitions and boundaries
on what constitute certain patterns which we have arbitrarily named. 
But the fact is that no two areas of ridge flow are the same, because
ridge flow is made up of level 2!"
Source: "The Weekly Detail... The Internet Newsletter"

You might be interested in reading this page as well:
"A landmark 'science of fingerprints' case in the courts occurred in
1911 in Chicago, U.S.A.  It resulted in the conviction of a man named
Thomas Jennings for murder.  Very little evidence against Jennings
existed ...the most significant being fingerprints.  To ensure that
fingerprint evidence would be admitted, the prosecution called several
recognized fingerprint experts as witnesses."
Source: "Ridges and Furrows"

"The first person to fashion a statistical foundation for this
assumption was the British gentlemanscientist Sir Francis Galton. He
calculated the probability that any two fingerprints wouldresemble
each other in all particulars as one in sixty-four billion. Galton
also noticed that thepapillary ridges on the fingertip often end
abruptly or split and rejoin one another. In his 1892book Finger
Prints,Galton labeled these points at which ridges end or split
"minutiae"; theywould later be known as "ridge characteristics,"
"points of similarity," and "Galton details.""
Source: "The Myth of Fingerprints"
Original PDF File:

"The FBI  produced a mathematical model in which 50,000 fingerprints
were compared with 50,000 other fingerprints. And their model told
them that it was mathematically impossible, one chance in ten to the
16th, that's one in 10 million billion, for two fingerprints to agree
in more than four Galton characteristics. Well, maybe.  But I suspect
that a goodly number of us here have seen two fingerprints from two
individuals that have agreed in just four characteristics."
Source: "Latent Fingerprints, Setting Standards in the Comparison..."

Other interesting links I came across:

"Fingerprint - Wikipedia"

For some math and further information:

I hope this is the type of research you were looking for. If you need
any clarifications, please let me know and I will do my best to
further assist you.


Search Strategy:

"uniqueness of fingerprints"

"uniqueness of fingerprints" statistical
pjordan-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Thank you

I gave the answer a rating of 4 becuase as his first two paragraphs
(with the three of his answer) are very well worded, I found the third
paragraph to be way off topic, to the point that it makes me think my
question was not understood, thus not anwered.

We should not confuse a question of whether a biological occurance
takes place and is absolutely assured to forever be unique, and the
question of whether or not humans will "notice" it, change any laws,
or any opinions of it relevance as an identification tool.

I would say Nature is NOT unique. Nature is RANDIQUE.

RANDIQUE: Something that is random, but that pulls from such a
astronimically vast pool of choices(events) and (as in evolution)
increments largely in it's minutea, that it APPEARS (even justifiably)

UNIQUE implies a governing force that can assure uniquesness, in our
case here, that governing law is RANDIQUE.

If you understand the word UNIQUE, you know that there are not varying
levels of it, and that IT IS NOT defined by mathamatical probability.
In fact, when something is unique, no math is even needed.

The above was not directed at the person who answered my question, but
more a reply to the finalization of the question, answered by the
person above.


Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: martinjay-ga on 01 Feb 2003 16:15 PST
Good answer, and you might add the dimension by which
we analyze finger prints.  From say 30 years ago, the
FBI might have used manual charateristic measures to
determine a match, but as technology progresses, we will
be able to charaterize and define an individual print to a
much higher degree, maybe even down to a level millions
of times more unique then present day.  Good question also.
Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: probonopublico-ga on 01 Feb 2003 21:26 PST
What do you expect for two bucks?
Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: sublime1-ga on 01 Feb 2003 21:32 PST
I'm sure that, as an expert researcher, tisme-ga considered
that fingerprints would be randique rather than unique. It's
just that a search for randique fingerprints shows no hits:

...and a $2 answer is supposed to provide one link.
Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: pjordan-ga on 01 Feb 2003 22:32 PST
Well, this is my first time on google answers. Being a beta, and
signing up just when I asked this question, I was hesitent to just put
down 30 bucks, even if it does have googles name on it.

My comment was on the (implied subject) way that his answer closed
with an afterthought, however that afterthought changes the aspect of
his answer. There was no need to change the scope of my question with
that statement.

It is like this. My girlfriend asks if she is pretty, I say yes, you
are very pretty, and your not fat. Well guess what folks, now we have
a fight don't we. Why? The first part of my reply means something
completely different now that I couple it with the later part of the
reply to my girlfriend.

It means my reply was based on a an unidentified assumption that her
question meant more, or had a greater(different) scope, and it likely

tisme is a very intelligent person, and he/she doesn't need you to
defend them. If you read my comment, it even says I am not directing
the comment at them.

Personally, I don't care if there where any links. I can search for
myself, so that is mute. I thought this was about querying someone
elses gained knowledge or experience, and not simply showing off links
to topics, and not answers. If you followed his links you would know
that they are not conclusive. My question has a conclusive answer.

You don't want this place to turn into another OpinionFest, and render
it useless. I rated it 4 stars, and I will pay more for the next
question. If I am a new user (to GA), I am just as leary about this as
door to door salesman, I mean c'mon do you think I just go around
throwing money all around on a whim?

Another thing, the researchers don't have to answer, so money amount
is not an issue. If they choose to answer it, it should be an answer,
not a $2 answer. As soon as the researchers start putting a price on
the info, then this will all be worthless, that is not its intent.

tisme was professional about this, and obviously knows this, but the
last two comments, were not called for.

Futhermore, it is up to the users and researchers to keep this
straight, and clear. "What do you expect for two bucks?" clearly
missed the intent of this service, and laid assumptions on my user
status. Hey probonopublico... do you have a service? doesn't matter,
here is $100 I don't care what? $150.. take it, who else wants money!
I don't know what I am getting, but who cares! I don't want to miss
out on paying top dollar for something I never used before!!

Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: hedgie-ga on 02 Feb 2003 03:41 PST
Actually pjordan,
          You have been quite generous with your rating,
(and perhaps overly generous with the 
length of your question and of the rating :-)

 The right length and right price price of a question depends...
 Some questions require compilation of time consuming lists
(which may be MOST links on some topic, MANY websites which do x..) 
 and will be more complete if the price is higher.
 Other questions, like yours, are logical and should 
 be answered Yes or No (or 1. vs 2. in your case). 
 and independently of the price.

Here is your $2 answer:

 Since FBI is using about .5 Mb per fingerprint
it is an easy math  to show that well before
 the Sun will engulf the Earth
there will be some duplicates in the FBI (global) database.

Therefore answer choice 1. is more correct.

PS  You are not an idiot in the sense 
      the word is (incorectly) used in English.
  You just being logical (again :-)
 I am told that in the Russian (as in Dostojevsky's novel)
 it means thinking differently fromthe crowd.
 Therefore - you may be. But that is a different,
 (and more expensive question :-)

Mope this will you to decide if GA
may be worth another try.

Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: pjordan-ga on 02 Feb 2003 09:08 PST
Thank you hedgie

Yes I was looking for a yes|no (#1 or #2). I appreciate your answer. 

I guess I came into using this for the first time with a idea I was
going to get a quick reply from an expert in anatomy or biology, but I
have to keep in mind that this can be not neccessarily an expert, but
a researcher. (Which can be just as good at times.) Yes I will
continue to use GA.


Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: owain-ga on 04 Feb 2003 06:34 PST
Tisme-ga wrote: 'I doubt that any person who tries to say in a court,
fingerprints belong to somebody else with the exact same design as
mine" will ever be successful.'

In fact, fingerprint evidence has been challenged in court. 

Otis Port in Business Weekly writes "The statistical data needed to
analyze the chances that there are two identical fingerprints haven't
been collected. But no matter how astronomical the odds turn out to
be, fingerprints are no longer quite the courtroom clincher that they
used to be."  and discusses two legal cases, one Scottish and one
American, at

Dr. James L. Wayman, Director, U.S. National Biometric Test Center,
writes . "proving or disproving [that no two individuals have any
fingerprints, or portions of any fingerprints, in common] is really
hard, because we scientists don’t have access to all fingerprints from
all the world’s people. Consequently, we may have to use 'statistical
estimation'" and discusses probability and accuracy of fingerprint
identification in legal cases, at

For practical purposes the question is less whether fingerprints are
truly unique as whether we can sufficiently accurately identify
similarities and difeerences to differentiate between different
individuals. This research seems to indicate that although we often
can, current techniques are not infallible.

This replaces my previously-posted comment which has been reviewed
following advice from Google Answers.

Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: pjordan-ga on 04 Feb 2003 09:38 PST
Yes, and tisme is correct.

However we should not give a social answer to a scientific question.
As soon as we do that, we mise well give up on hope. Science has
nothing to do with people. People are nothing but a variable in
science. As soon as you let social issues creep into science, the
cancer will grow, and your childrens' children will be watching
"Scientist Survivor" on TV, and science will be nothing but a joke,
and a tool for politicians to blur the layman into "seeing" things
their way.

You must remember, the majority of people don't question what a
scientist says, they don't question what a preacher says, however they
ALWAYS question what a politician says.

So I ask, who has more power? more clout? and who is that power
valuable to? We must retain purity in science, or the cancer of tv
laden feel good masses will simply "migrate" to whoever is dishing out
the prettiest BS. Society needs to know the facts, and be educated, or
they will numbly hand down a watered down version of what they "think"
they know.

Said that,

In a database, when you designate a column as "primary key" there is
now consciousness by the database of the past, present and future.

Past: knowledge(record) of highest value already in column.

Present: what you want it to do (increment by 1)

Future: that, when a new record is born, give it a key 
        of higest valu in column, plus 1, insuring it is unique.

You need these three elements for an ongoing process to remain unique,

Scientist always ask the wrong questions. It is not whether we have a
database of everyone currently on the planet, that we can compare,
that is not even close to an answer.

It does not matter how detailed the record of a fingerprint is, or how
large our database is. When you are born, a query IS NOT sent to a
database, compared against all that came before, then altered
slightly, and then "checked out" to you.

It is that simple.


PS, remember in grade school when they taught you i before e except
after c?

Science, Society, ancient, efficient, glacier... and many more 
foreign, heirloom, being, either, forfeit... and many more

There are even more when i simply DOES come after e, (even when it
doesn't have an "a" sound. Begs the question, why come up with an easy
to remember rule if it does not work.

HEY! 'Pjor' before 'dan' when you want to spell Pjordan!!! I mean,
what is the deal!  Fingerprints! DNA! i before e! ALL LIES!

Fight the Future-
Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: jcg-ga on 05 Feb 2003 00:40 PST
Dear pjordan,

You have given this old scientist a joy ride tonight in reading this
particular GA stream.  Most scientists do not know how to ask
questions or how to look at evidence/data.  Your mind is remarkable. 
It has been a pleasure watching it work.

Subject: Re: Are Fingerprints unique?
From: pjordan-ga on 06 Feb 2003 13:23 PST
Thank you JCG

I should have not been so general with my comment. It should read
"Most scientists", as you said. I did not mean to infer all
scientists. I am sure there are many resposible people in your field
who take just as much time forming a minded question, as they do an

After all, this world has come along way, largely becuase of
science/R&D, the good, and the bad.

Order, focus, and patience are the seeds of progess.


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