Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Loosey-Goosey sci-oosey.

Popular Mechanics has an article on Criminal Forensics as a science. They are not kind:
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.”
It's actually a fascinating read. You can see it over here. One of the biggest surprises of the DNA age in the courtroom was how incredibly fallible even human memory is. The certainty gets ratcheted up as witnesses go from identification to the courtroom.

But I still think Bones is a funny show.

1 comment:

gpc said...

Pathologists, at least in my area, also testify with "absolute certainty" about things they have no way of knowing. I remember a gruesome infanticide where the pathologist testified that the young babysitter, who hadn't been relieved for over 12 hours, could not have acted in mere frustration when she shook the tiny baby because, he said, it would have taken "five minutes of vigorous shaking" to cause the infant's swollen brain. I didn't believe him, but the jury did. These 'experts' are generally witnesses for the prosecution, and can make the difference between a conviction for manslaughter or second-degree murder, and first-degree murder with its usual (minimum of a) mandatory life sentence. And nobody really cares, because the prosecutors are seen as the white hats of the law.