How Involved is Science with Forensics?


photo credit: Missouri Department of Public Safety

Science Friday airs on WSQX weekly Fridays from 2-4pm

In 2009, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a harsh critique of forensic science: Many of the techniques long relied upon, such as matching bite marks or hair samples, or even crime scene fingerprints, to suspected criminals, are actually unreliable and lack any basis in scientific research. In 2015, the FBI admitted that its analyses of hair samples tilted unfairly in favor of the prosecution in 95 percent of reviewed cases.

The end of April saw the expiration of the multidisciplinary National Commission on Forensic Science, created by President Obama to establish standards and bring rigor to forensic science. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that the Department of Justice will conduct an internal review on how to move forward on reforming forensic science, and will perhaps lean more heavily on law enforcement than did Obama’s commission, which included independent scientists, lab directors, attorneys, and more.

[Forensic entomologists hunt down insects to help catch criminals.]

One of those independent scientists, West Virginia University forensic chemistry professor Suzanne Bell, joins Ira to explain the impact of losing the commission, the ongoing lack of consistent scientific rigor in forensics investigations, and how to improve forensic science. She’s joined by Betty Layne DesPortes, a defense attorney and president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.