Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some forensic science is not science

Just as folks are making more and more demands on us and all of the criminal justice system based on what they see on TV, this report comes out:

The National Academy of Sciences says many courtroom claims about fingerprints, bite marks and other evidence lack scientific verification. It finds forensics inconsistent and in disarray nationwide.

The report from the Academy makes several recommendations for improvement in our current system to ensure scientific validity in testing and what passes as evidence, as well as “certification” of expert witnesses. All of that would be a great step forward, but I think we need to include one more thing. We need to tell the public that all those TV shows are not real.

Those high-tech gadgets often don’t exist. Fingerprints are often not easy to get and they are not 100% accurate. Not everyone’s prints are on record for identification. You can only infrequently get a print off the trigger of a gun and then it is only partial (a sliver) and useless, for the most part, in telling you who pulled the trigger (questions we have gotten in the past). Testing for the force needed to inject someone with a syringe tells you nothing about “who did it” (based on a recent question to our office, which in turn was based on something they saw on TV).

At least some of the inaccurate testimony and “bad science” that makes it into investigations and courtrooms is driven by the public’s expectations, driven by TV. Get a grip folks its entertainment not reality.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more. I cannot stand crime shows or medical emergency dramas because they perpetuate unrealistic expectations in the public. There was a study done that showed older community-dwelling adults believed that CPR was successful 75% of the time- about what is seen on TV. If people knew that the real success rate is around 15% or less, they might be much less likely to expect miracles, especially in people with multiple co-morbidities. It boggles my mind what people think is real!