On Wednesday, Feb. 18, the National Academy of Sciences issued a ground-breaking report titled, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. This report quite clearly sets forth the substantial shortcomings of forensic sciences, including the lack of standardization and overall quality among local, state, and federal providers of forensic science evidence.
The Report highlights concerns about lack of laboratory accreditation and certification, the complicated problems inherent in "matching" a specific to an individual source, the lack of independent oversight of laboratories, and the dangers of many of the terms forensic scientists use to describe a match, such as "consistent with" or "similar in all respects tested." Among the exceptionally troubling statements about the state of forensic science, the Report states the following:
[T]he quality of forensic forensic practice in most disciplines varies greatly because of the absence of adequate training and continuing education, rigorous mandatory certification and accreditation programs, adherence to robust performance standards, and effective oversight. These shortcomings obviously pose a continuing threat to the quality and credibility of forensic science practice.
WIth the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, however, no forensic [individualization] method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.. . . The simple reality is that the interpretation of forensic science is not always based on scientific studies to determine its validity.
The concerns are systemwide, serious, and exceptionally troubling for the justice system. The report also lists several recommendations to be discussed in a following post.
Professor Jane Campbell Moriarty is at the American Academy of Forensic Science today in Denver, Colo., speaking at their annual meeting.
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