Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Forensics nuggets

Grits was pleased that an associate turned me onto a blog by Penn State law prof. D.H. Kaye titled "Forensic Science, Statistics and the Law," which I've spent the morning perusing.

While somewhat of a challenge to your correspondent's math skills, the linked resources in this post on sources of error in DNA testing are excellent supplements to recent MSM reports, particularly this recent law review article critiquing common statistical descriptions of the likelihood of a match when trawling large DNA databases.

Especially notable from his archives: Two posts from February discussing error rates among fingerprint examiners, including an adumbration of a study which found a three percent false positive rate (among self-selected examiners who knew they were being evaluated). Most posts are fairly detailed fact-and/or-math-based assessments

Incidentally, Prof. Kaye was one of several authors in 2011 of a paper titled "The need for a research culture in the forensic sciences." So I suspect he was pleased as I was to see that the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation is funding a massive investigation by the American Association for the Advancement of Science into "the underlying scientific bases for the forensic tools and methods currently used in the criminal justice system," focusing on ten specific forensic disciplines:
  1. Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
  2. Digital Evidence
  3. Fire Investigations
  4. Firearms and Toolmarks/Ballistics
  5. Footwear and Tire Tracks
  6. Forensic Odontology- Bitemark Analysis
  7. Latent Fingerprints
  8. Trace Evidence- Fibers
  9. Trace Evidence- Hair
  10. Trace Evidence- Paint & Other coatings
"Reports will be issued for each of the fields specifying the quality of the existing literature and what research would strengthen the scientific foundation for that area. The project reports are expected to encourage basic research and contribute to improving the quality of forensic science used in the legal system," according to the AAAS website.

Judge Barbara Hervey of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is on the project's Advisory Panel. See related coverage from Forensic magazine.


He's Innocent said...

Thanks for this posting Grits! The news of the large scale investment in forensic sciences research is exciting! It has the potential to up-end the prosecution of cases and perhaps even lead to fewer cases of wrongful convictions.

Personally, the digital research will be something I will be eager to see. Child porn cases are among the easiest of sexual offenses to throw at someone and have it stick. Texas law literally does not allow a defense to this charge. Literally. Yet, the unfortunate who end up with this crap on their devices/PC's are ruined for life and assumed to be active porn traders. Quite often, it is the exact opposite.

Therefore, perhaps the digital research will in time allow for an update to this offense which would mandate mens rea for possessing those images.

I can hope, but I'll be sure to not hold my breath in the meantime.

Anonymous said...

... but we are still waiting for attempts to clean up the cesspool of forensic mental health testimony, where so-called "experts" play fast and loose with both the state-of-the-art practices of their professions and with ethics rules. Difficult, of course, because this area of scientific knowledge is harder to quantify than the physical science areas, but still a necessary task ...

And then of course there is the uphill task of getting defense counsel to actually challenge junk science using the tools available to them in the Texas Rules of Evidence ... a survey of the records in the appellate courts would reveal - statistically - how rarely that is done ...