Monday, August 03, 2009

Popular Mechanics Unveils "The Truth About 4 Common Forensics Methods"

Forensic evidence, shmorensic evidence. Okay, that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but the point remains: much of forensic "science" is anything but scientific. That was one of the findings contained in a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences. And it's one of the reasons why cross-examination of witnesses presenting forencic evidence is no mere formality.

The deficiencies of forensic science have now reached popular consciousness, as evidenced by this feature article in the August 2009 issue of Popular Mechanics. As the article explains, not only are "America’s forensic labs . . . overburdened, understaffed and under intense pressure from prosecutors to produce results[,]" but
criminal forensics has a deeper problem of basic validity. Bite marks, blood-splatter patterns, ballistics, and hair, fiber and handwriting analysis sound compelling in the courtroom, but much of the “science” behind forensic science rests on surprisingly shaky foundations. Many well-established forms of evidence are the product of highly subjective analysis by people with minimal credentials—according to the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, no advanced degree is required for a career in forensics. And even the most experienced and respected professionals can come to inaccurate conclusions, because the body of research behind the majority of the forensic sciences is incomplete, and the established methodologies are often inexact. “There is no scientific foundation for it,” says Arizona State University law professor Michael Saks. “As you begin to unpack it you find it’s a lot of loosey-goosey stuff.”
There's also an article exposing "The Truth About 4 Common Forensics Methods," those methods being fingerprints, ballistics, trace evidence, and biological evidence. Well worth a read.

Hat tip: Radley Balko at Hit & Run.

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