FORENSICS | The Hon. Harry T. Edwards, co-chair of the NAS 2009 report on forensics, speaks to the Commission on Forensic Science

Last week, Judge Edwards had a few comments regarding the tasking challenges facing the newly constructed Committee on Forensic Science. He’s the fellow who has spoken so clearly on the aftermath of the NAS forensic report that voiced scientific disappointment in most things involving forensic science. One exception was DNA when it is properly collected, described and processed. One must remember that DNA profiling was a previous NAS topic about 20 years ago which, at the time, was struggling with a bit of technical shoddiness and roiling over what statistical studies should be incorporated in rendering its powerful  effects on forensic identification.

He takes a historical approach, based on his own experiences on the subject matter of the commission goals . He is not just an exalted resident of hallowed appellate halls. He may even read some Law Review articles. (Inside lawyer joke). Here is the lead line for his presentation to the 35 member commission. I am sure they were paying attention.

Reflections on the Findings of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community

Here are a few excerpts:

1) His overview on NAS 2009 will sound familiar to those following forensics.

“On February 18, 2009, the NAS Committee published its final report. We concluded that, “[w]ith the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, . . . no forensic 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.”
Our report also documented: ”

To keep this next short, I will give a statistical analysis on the adverbs and adjectives they used 5 years ago.

“Paucity” (2x). Topics: [of] research, validation, and observer errors and bias.

“Lack” (2x). Topics: [of] autonomy and transparencies and oversight in crime labs. (go to @csidds on Twitter for some of this). The Boston crime lab denials continue.

“Absence” (2x). Topics: [of] mandatory practitioner and rigorous laboratory accreditation.

“Failure” (2x). Topics: [of] forensic practitioners. No robust performance standards, terminology, report writing, and testifying.

“Gross” (1x). Topics: shortage of training that addresses all of the above.

I am not going to summarize the rest of his 8 page (with endnotes) public comments. It may have taken him 5 minutes in total. But his keywords (along with some of my editing) you should look for are:

KEYWORDS AND PHRASES: Hope that the commission moves forward with NAS 2009 lead; the commission is qualified; he regrets there is no governmental entity which would mandate forensic reforms and focus research progress; real science must help forensics; the courts are no answer to scientific advancements; case precedents control; gatekeeping by judges is a misnomer; he gave numerous recent examples of inadequate and muddled legal thinking on forensic methods; forensic experts’ false positives, negatives and error rates (from Fed court in Daubert; 1993) are of slight concern to the judiciary; some call the Daubert standard “flexible.” (Sounds like a lawyer to me. I’m glad the medical profession doesn’t review its therapeutics with such dissembling. As in “Doctor, my arm hurts when I move it’ with the physician then saying, “Well then, don’t move your arm. You owe me $5.” Thanks to Rodney Dangerfield).

Here is the Hon. Harry T. Edwards. http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/EdwardsSpeechtoNCFS.pdf

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in Forensic Science, junk forensic science, National FOrensic Science Commission, wrongful convictions and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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