The hit TV series C.S.I. coined the catchphrase “follow the evidence,” and its popularity helped significantly boost the number of young people keen on studying forensics as a career. But a report by the National Academy of Sciences released earlier this year concluded it was time to put a bit more science in forensic science. (h/t: 3 Quarks Daily)
Wait — isn’t forensics all science? Certainly DNA testing has been rigorously tested and re-tested via peer review, and has both convicted and exonerated thousands ever since it was introduced as evidence in courts of law. But the forensic science system as a whole is “badly fragmented” and in need of major reforms and new research to establish a stronger scientific basis for many forensic methods, according to the NAS report.
Entitled Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, the report found that crime labs were overworked and understaffed, giving rise to case backlogs. There were insufficient certification programs for investigators, and a pronounced lack of oversight in the field. Most importantly, key methods commonly used as evidence to tie specific individuals to crimes — tool marks on the barrel of a gun, for example — “have never been exposed to stringent scientific scrutiny.” Even that old standby, fingerprint analysis, can be prone to error.