Science vs Forensics – Podcast on Bugs, Bitemark “Whack-A-Mole” and Bungled Fingerprints

Science Vs

This jazzy podcast is worth the time to take a look. I’d give it an ‘A’ for lay people and students interested in the ‘semi to non’ science presently used in forensic practice..

Here is a commercial “Science Vs’ program (@sciencevs: Self-described as “A podcast that pits fads against everything else.” Hosted by @)  develops the story of these forensic specialties.

The podcast runs 26 minutes.  Forensic bugs come up first, after an advert for an online clothing company and another at the half-way mark. The show’s narrator is a quippy Aussie lady who keeps the listener engaged. She chortles a bit over bitemarks having started in the Texas with some burglary cheese evidence.

The bug researcher is interesting in describing her and others’ work at a ‘body farm’ relating to variables present in environmental and chemical influences on dating bug populations on deceased and occasionally still  living people. She says that if a criminal case hinges on the time of death from bugs, it must be ‘a weak case’ in need of more powerful facts.

The bitemark portion begins about 11 min into the show and contains interviews both Chris Fabricant of the NY Innocence Project and retired L.A. Sheriff Crime lab director Barry Fisher. Fisher describes why human skin is not a reliable material for tooth comparing. The narrator and Fabricant pose the content of recent ‘real science’ and professional bitemark debunking  the National Academy of Science and President’s Council of Science/Tech. During his interview, Fabricant receives a phone call about a Pennsylvania death penalty trial where a DA is planning to use presumably an ABFO bitemark dentist to testify to a bite ‘match.’ He comments that that opposing the use of this testimony throughout the US is analogous to playing “whack-a-mole” sometimes without the “whack.”

At the 18: minute mark the show enters the realm of obtaining  fingerprints from a crime scene by Barry Fisher who includes how fingerprints ultimately end up being ‘matched’  by humans. A telling fact is that the US has no “minimum match value” when they reach a result. Brandon Mayfield’s false FBI print positive ID is featured. This flies in the face of higher standards as in Spain which ultimately overturned Mayfield’s accusers despite similarities that “were not really there.” Cognitive bias in forensics is then included by Itel Dror explanation that”smart people do stupid things” and the “biased snowball effect.”

Also See: A brilliant cautionary tale on Fingerprints and their Scientific Uncertainty | The AAFS/ABFO dentists should read this | @csidds

Finally, its all about hair. This is where the FBI really flubbed up. Then Professor  Patrick Buzzini does his thing on the subject.

In all of this, the shows’ end game shows some of these methods have sent defendants to prison and execution. Then PART 2 is coming up about “touch” DNA and some more hard questioning in two weeks.


About csidds

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