Confessions of a forensic science whistleblower : Its not what you think

Per se, the  title “whistleblower” does not apply to me. I do not work for a governmental or public company. I am a health care provider. I am self employed. I have the “physician do no harm” philosophy  as my mantra. “Practicing” for 39 years has enabled me to marvel over newer and more effective therapeutics for helping patients heal and enjoy themselves. Those years have also allowed me to acquire an aptitude to weed out quackery and ineffective, dangerous, or at least overblown “cures” and “therapies” that frequently arise. I particularly hate the liars, obfuscators and “white wash” experts who hawk their wares to the public who generally trust health professionals.  I have applied this measure of scrutiny during my forensic career as well. For twenty years since DNA profiling began its ascent into the  forensic community. The forensic swags who boasted their forensic wares at the expense of public safety in Monday’s NYT article have been my target for 20 years.

There are numerous safeguards in the health care industry composed of state regulation statutes, audits of treatment records and professional standards which affect compliance and performance to protect the public’s best interests and concerns.

In the forensic science kingdom, there is no governmental oversight. There is a “self rule” environment that has existed since its infancy in pre-WWI Germany, Britain and the US. This is a self policing responsibility that is reflected in the few forensic organizations who volunteer as the protectors of public when forensic science or “non-science” interacts in the criminal justice system. Some of us call these groups “good old boy” social clubs capitalizing on the rampant popularity of CSI “careers” they promote. The biggest of these groups were heavily represented in all of the last five years of Congressional forensic “fact-finding” forays.

So, what happens when some forensic “whack jobs” run amok? Not much of anything as Monday’s NYT piece and the linked Radley Balko 2009 article show too well. Maybe not, if the MS Supreme Court wakes up about Eddie Lee Howard’s case. If they do, it could lead the way for other reversals of “bitemark identification” convictions. IF, the court takes the opinion that the 2009 NAS Report bashing “bitemark identifications” controls the playing field of forensics. That would be a huge leap forward.

If you have the stomach, view the horrors of the “approved method of forensics” seen in Howard (approved by the ABFO until 2013). Tragically, the one case mentioned by the NYT and Balko is NOT the only forensic train-wreck in the ABFO’s portfolio.

Don’t expect the government, or the forensic clubs to do anything proactive. When asked, AAFS reps have responded that theirs is not the proper “forum.” Or that, “we will send it to committee.”  Or, “we are happy to have our elite members participate in the National Forensic Science Commission.” Noteworthy: a recent addition to the NFSC has  been involved in a Louisiana conviction case which later became an exoneration.

One last on criminal justice system. The court’s do not promulgate forensic science changes on the systemic judicial level. Even when a long accepted-in-court forensic method gets the boot by a combination of unacceptable failures and media/public defender opposition. Double especially when the NYT-expressed forensic “short-comings” have permeated criminal cases for decades, as in MS and most states. Its not their job.

BTW, this is not a confession.



About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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