Thursday, June 12, 2014
From Slate.com. In part:
Behind the myriad technical defects of modern forensics lie two extremely basic scientific problems. The first is a pretty clear case of cognitive bias: A startling number of forensics analysts are told by prosecutors what they think the result of any given test will be. This isn’t mere prosecutorial mischief; analysts often ask for as much information about the case as possible—including the identity of the suspect—claiming it helps them know what to look for. . . .
The second flaw that plagues forensics is even more alarming: For decades, nobody knew how accurate forensic analyses were, or whether they were accurate at all. There’s no central agency that evaluates each test for precision or reliability before approving its use, and most were developed with barely a gesture toward the scientific method and with little input from the scientific community. Nor did the creators of forensics tests publish their methods in peer-reviewed scientific journals. And why should they? Without a government agency overseeing the field, forensic analysts had no incentive to subject their tests to stricter scrutiny. Groups such as the Innocence Project have continually put pressure on the Department of Justice—which almost certainly should have supervised crime labs from the start—to regulate forensics. But until recently, no agency has been willing to wade into the decentralized mess that hundreds of labs across the country had unintentionally created.