MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Rod Rosenstein Defends Bad Forensic Science

Experts warn against forms of forensic evidence that haven't been validated, but the deputy attorney general thinks that's an "erroneously narrow view."

Joshua Roberts/REUTERS/NewscomJoshua Roberts/REUTERS/NewscomU.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended several questionable forms of forensic evidence Tuesday.

"Most of you work on the front lines of the criminal justice system, where forensic science has been under attack in recent years," Rosenstein said in a speech at the National Symposium on Forensic Science. "Some critics would like to see forensic evidence excluded from state and federal courtrooms."

Over the past two decades, DNA testing has revealed hundreds of wrongful convictions, many of them stemming from "pattern" evidence such as bite marks, shoe prints, and microscopic hair comparison. The Justice Department has been under pressure to improve forensic standards since it and FBI admitted in 2015 that two dozen examiners in one of its hair analysis labs had given flawed testimony in hundreds of cases. In those cases, 32 defendants were sentenced to death; 14 were eventually executed or died in prison.

In 2016, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report finding "a dismaying frequency of instances of use of forensic evidence"—such as analyses of hair, bite marks, and shoe prints—"that do not pass an objective test of scientific validity."

But the Justice Department, under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, has rejected calls to stop relying on such evidence. In his speech Tuesday, Rosenstein continued to defend them:

Many of the challenged methods involve the comparison of evidence patterns like fingerprints, shell casings, and shoe marks to known sources. Critics argue that the methods have not undergone the right type or amount of validation, or that they involve too much human interpretation and judgment to be accepted as "scientific" methods.

You regularly face Frye and Daubert motions that challenge the admission of routine forensic methods.

Those arguments are based on the false premise that a scientific method must be instrument-based, automated, and quantitative, excluding human interpretation and judgment. Such critiques contributed to a recent proposal to amend Federal Rule of Evidence 702 for cases involving forensic evidence. The effort stems from an erroneously narrow view of the nature of science and its application to forensic evidence.

Forensic science is not only quantitative or automated. It need not be entirely free from human assumptions, choices, and judgments. That is not just true of forensic science. It is also the case in other applied expert fields like medicine, computer science, and engineering.

Betty Layne DesPortes, a Virginia criminal defense attorney and past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, is troubled by Rosenstein's comments on court challenges to evidence. "Not challenging 'routine methods' is what got us dozens of wrongful convictions with bite marks and hair analysis," she says, speaking in her personal capacity. "The idea that we're scientists, so don't challenge us, is very, very dangerous for the criminal justice system, and quite frankly dangerous for science too."

DesPortes and other figures in the criminal defense world say Rosenstein inaccurately portrayed both their position and the actual issue: the untested reliability of pattern evidence like bite marks and shoe prints. Rosenstein's speech "mischaracterizes and distorts the issues raised over the last decade concerning the problems with unreliable forensic practices," says Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. "The criticism of pattern matching disciplines is not that these disciplines involve human judgment and interpretation, but rather that there has never been sufficient scientific empirical research to ensure that those human judgments and interpretations have a reliable scientific foundation. The Department of Justice, no less than the Innocence Project, should want to ensure that only reliable science is used in criminal prosecutions because we are all harmed when the wrong person is convicted of a crime."

For example, in the case of bite mark evidence, the PCAST report stated that "available scientific evidence strongly suggests that examiners not only cannot identify the source of bite mark with reasonable accuracy, they cannot even consistently agree on whether an injury is a human bite mark."

Reporting by former Reason reporter Radley Balko has revealed several wrongful conviction cases based on spectacularly flawed bite mark analysis. And yet bite mark evidence, along with such questionable methods as blood spatter and tool mark analysis, has never been barred from a single courtroom in the U.S.

Drew Findling, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), points out that his organization has worked for several years with the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Innocence Project to review flawed microscopic hair comparison analysis and notify defendants who this evidence was used against.

"Given this context, we are concerned about [Rosenstein's] comments that pattern evidence that does not have sufficient foundational validity may be offered solely based upon 'human assumptions, choices and judgments' instead of science," Findling says. "NACDL is concerned that the remarks could lead to a policy that will leave the door open to unreliable forensic evidence."

While the Justice Department has made many changes to improve forensic practices, it has strenuously resisted calls for more sweeping reforms. Under former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the Justice Department rejected PCAST's recommendations to require expert witnesses to disclose error rates in their testimony and, where methods haven't been scientifically verified, not use them at all.

The National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS), an independent review group formed by the Obama administration, released a draft code of ethics for forensic science providers. The draft code included a mandate to inform all parties, including defendants and victims, when misconduct or a lack of professional standards adversely affected a case. But when Lynch adopted the new code of ethics in a 2016 memo, it only required forensic providers to "inform the prosecutors involved...of material nonconformities or breaches of law or professional standards that adversely affect a previously issued report or testimony."

Last April, the Justice Department, now under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, chose not to renew the NCFS's charter, effectively shuttering the group. At the the commission's final public hearing, Keith Allen Harward, who spent 33 years in Virginia state prison for rape and murder before being exonerated by DNA evidence, testified.

"It's not right. Why's it still around?" Harward said of bite mark evidence. "Just this year there's been two people, like me, who've gotten out. Explain to me, what does it take to admit that this stuff's all crap?"

The Justice Department replaced the commission with new working groups, but former members of the NCFS and others in the field worry that these are essentially in-house and will lack the NCFS's independence.

Rosenstein's comments are a shame, DesPortes says, because almost everyone welcomes many of the improvements he announced, such as introducing rules about what language forensic experts can use while testifying.

"The ironic thing is, I think both sides agree that the steps being taken are good steps," DesPortes says. "We all agree on what to do, it's just we don't agree on how each side is characterizing the battle. When both sides do that, walls go up and things become more difficult."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Rosenstein needs to get fired next. He's a corrupt bureaucrat like Comey was.

    Fire Sessions too for defending Rosenstein.

    I dont hear any of the media using Trump's catch phrase: YOU'RE FIRED!

  • Wearenotperfect||

    Can we at least wait until the Russian baby adoption investigation is completed? Some of that junk science can still be used to continue building the case against Trump as payback for his campaign against the Central Park 5. Just saying!

  • Tony||

    How is he corrupt, specifically?

    How much of a dictator do you want Trump to be?

  • Presskh||

    When the "Russian collusion" investigation actually starts investigating the only know actual collusion (the Steele dossier and the Democrats), it will be a rrue investigation. Until then, it remains nothing but an unlimited witch hunt designed to find any real or fabricated shred of evidence that will lead to the impeachment and removal of Trump.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    The goal isn't to find the truth, it's to get Trump no matter what. People like Stupid Tony are ok with that, but real Americans are not.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    LC, I would go even further and say that Rosenstein himself should probably be the subject of a special prosecutor, along with Comey and many others.

    Nothing will probably happen until after the election, when Trump will finally shit can Sessions.

    Here's a question for everyone. Is Sessions a worse AG than Ramsey Clark? Discuss!

  • Rich||

    "It need not be entirely free from human assumptions, choices, and judgments. That is not just true of forensic science."

    Well said, Rod.

    *** rolls eyes ***

  • Juice||

    But forensic evidence is given an air of objectivity. Jurors think it's scientifically objective and therefore rock solid. If you use crap "evidence" like bite mark analysis, them that it's a bunch of guesswork and that it's not scientific. Teach the controversy.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Bite mark analysis which DNA science has show to be nearly worthless. Multiple felons have been released because the bite mark analysis was used to convict them and DNA evidence exonerated them.

    Fiber analysis is another over used method to convict people.

    Ballistics analysis is another.

    These methods were junk science at the time and DNA has shown that many of the 'scientific' conclusions about Defendant guilt were 100% wrong. If scientists would admit that they could not make conclusions with any certainty based on these methods, less Defendants would have been wrongly convicted.

    Juries depend on the objectivity of science to help them decide guilt and the prosecutors, judges, and scientists are fucking liars.

  • Jerryskids||

    I've mentioned here before reading a piece years ago about the problem with judges acting as gatekeepers in deciding who gets to be an expert witness is that judges aren't themselves experts and therefore can't determine who is and who is not an expert in increasingly complicated scientific matters. The judges' default becomes to let anybody with a credential in and let the jury decide whether or not the expert is qualified, and the jury is even less qualified than the judges are to determine what's horseshit and what's not. If you're wearing a lab coat and smell faintly of formaldehyde, you can convince a jury of anything and if you can convince a jury of anything you can make a ton of money. Unless and until you get some judges who can tell the difference and the backbone to bar the pseudo-scientific professional expert testimony providers, it's going to take some effort from science activists chanting "Not In Our Name!" outside an awful lot of courtrooms to draw attention to the scam.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    A little known tactic of prosecutors is to have 'experts' sit in the courtroom during other testimony so they can craft their testimony.

    It happened in the Manafort case. The judge handled it poorly but he was right.

    All Witnesses need to be excluded from the courtroom so their testimony is based on their own observations, opinions, or 'expert' field not based on what other witnesses say.

  • Happy Chandler||

    Which experts?

    What testimony?

  • Flinch||

    That practice does seem unethical. They get to see the tilt of prejudicial questions that are throwaways and get withdrawn or stricken from the record and are therefore able to shade their remarks based on things other than their expertise. This sort of thing would not likely pass muster for alibi witnesses in a defense, seems to me. But I've only sat on a few juries and I've never seen that sort of thing: witnesses were called when their testimony was to be presented and didn't get to spectate.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    [picks up Rich's eyes and rolls them back to Rich]

  • Trollificus||

    "Rich's eyes"? Those are snake-eyes!!

  • Hank Phillips||

    Lily Tomlin knows: "We're the Justice Department... we don't care. We don't have to!"

  • Curt||

    War on Science!!

  • JoeJoetheIdiotCircusBoy||

    "It need not be entirely free from human assumptions, choices, and judgments. That is not just true of forensic science. It is also the case in other applied expert fields like medicine, computer science, and engineering."

    Oh my god, what an asshole. First, medicine, computer science, and engineering aren't throwing people in cages or executing them. Second, most (all?) tests used in those fields have fucking error rates that account for the biases that are introduced by human assumptions, choices, and judgments. Most of the tests in the PCAST report don't even have established error rates. So we literally don't even know how often they are wrong on average. If you don't know error rates, you can't calculate the likelihood of whether this particular test was accurate in this particular instance/case.

  • Jerryskids||

    You're just choosing to make an assumption that science is judged by its relation to objective, verifiable truth, Rosenstein chooses to make an assumption that science should be judged by how well it secures a conviction. Who's to say who's opinion is more valid than another's? Any good phrenologist, astrologer or haruspex will tell you science is more art than science.

  • Trollificus||

    Cops still use drug-sniffing dogs as Insta-Search-Warrants, and their reliability HAS been debunked. So it might be asking a bit much to expect better from people who wear, like, actual white lab coats.

  • Flinch||

    Correct. I've seen it in action: the dog is keyed in on the handlers behavior and can be made to "alert" at will by subtle body language [while passing by real evidence sometimes]. I call that a ruined K9: $5k of taxpayer money flushed down the toilet.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Well put. In courtroom vernacular, expert witnesses are known as "whores." (No disparagement intended toward voluntary sex workers)

  • JonFrum||

    A woman was found murdered in a town south of Boston. A dog led police to the front door of a local man. He was arrested, and police announced that he was the murderer. There was a bite mark on the woman's breast. The 'expert' said that the suspect's teeth did not match the bite marks. So the police went to another 'expert' and got the results they wanted.

    Eventually, the case fell apart, with the police department refusing to acknowledge any error. And the suspect? Of course, his neighbors continued suspecting him. Becuase after all, the police did charge him.

  • mockmock||

    Or meerly announce him a "person of interest".

  • Cyto||

    What this case also points out is that there is self-deception involved in the use of flawed forensics.

    Everyone who wants to evaluate forensic science should study the ESP studies of the 60's and 70's and the discovery of N-rays in the early 1900's. In both cases, well-meaning researchers fooled themselves because they didn't understand how to control for their own biases. Eventually, when good, well-controlled experiments were developed, the fields were debunked.

    In the case of n-rays, researchers were seeing patterns that didn't exist - because they wanted to see them.

    In the case of psychic research, it took magicians explaining how to control for trickery. Scientists weren't used to having subjects who were trying to deceive, so they didn't know how to test for that.

    Also, some types of "paranormal phenomenon" involve self deception. Things like dowsing, aura detection, healing touch and facilitated communication can result from people wanting to believe something and then fooling themselves by failing to see their internal biases. Only when proper scientific controls and true double blinded experiments were conducted did these effects disappear. Just like forensic scientists, many of the practitioners were surprised when they learned that they didn't have the abilities they claimed. Many still held firm in their belief in their ability even when confronted with iron-clad evidence to the contrary. Such is the nature of the human mind.

  • Rossami||

    No one is saying that forensic science must be "instrument-based, automated, and ... excluding human interpretation and judgment." However, for it to be Science, it must be replicable. And that does mean that replicability must be demonstrated quantitatively.

    The problem is not an attack on "forensic science". The problem is that the techniques being used aren't "science" in the first place.

  • Jerryskids||

    What is that they say about when the law is on your side you pound on the law and when the facts are on your side you pound on the facts and when neither the facts nor the law is on your side you pound on the table? Rosenstein's pounding on the table. "How dare you question our expertise in this area of expertisorosity?"

  • Oli||

    It must not only be replicable, but also falsifiable. Philosophy of science 101 since Popper.

  • Cyto||

    The important bit about forensics is replication and proper blinding. Because of the way tests are conducted, they are not properly blinded. So the pathologists know what the result is supposed to be. This can create subconscious biases that render the desired result.

    This is why "subtle, human interpretation of patterns" is so dangerous. Pattern recognition is what our brains do. They are amazing at it. They can find patterns everywhere .... even in random noise.

    So you give someone a piece of smooth metal with hundreds of microscopic scratches on it and tell them it is supposed to match this other piece of metal, they'll have a really good chance of finding a match, even if it isn't there. The same goes for a hair, or fiber or anything like that.

  • Cyto||

    The question was originally designed wrong. It was "what can we find that ties the suspect to the crime?" So "I found a hair" became a good answer.

    The way to test that would be to take 100 random hairs and see if you can match them correctly to a pool of 10,000 random subjects. Then you'd get a better idea of how useful it is. But they don't look at it that way. They take a suspect hair and an evidence hair and look until they find a spot that matches them up. They have no idea how error-prone their method is, because they don't test for that. If they did, they'd see that they are not very accurate at all. (additionally, maybe they find hairs from 10 different people at the scene... but they match them all against the suspect, keeping only the matches)

    Most of these people are probably well intentioned. They just don't understand how easy it is to deceive yourself with poorly designed controls.

  • Cyto||

    Then there are people like Rosenstein and Jim Hood, who don't want to give up the power to manufacture evidence in order to convict people that they just know are guilty.

    Why do you think the FBI continues to avoid recording interviews and only goes with the notes of the agent? It puts suspects on the hook for the interpretation and recollection of a person who is trying to convict them. If the FBI was being an honest broker here, they'd get rid of that practice. The fact that they haven't in the era of smart phones should tell everyone that the people at the top do not have honest intentions. These are the same people making decisions about forensic science reform.

  • JFree||

  • Agammamon||

    I thought it was because of priapism.

  • Flinch||

    We're doomed.

  • majil||

    Rosenstein needs to share a prison cell with guy named Leroy so within a week a freight train could enter his anus

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The guy is a Republican in law enforcement. Anyone who expects something other than big-government authoritarianism, result-driven morality, and a demand for police and prosecutorial freedom from accountability from him is a dope.

  • bevis the lumberjack||

    The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology brought this exact subject up during the Obama years, and Loretta Lynch - whom nobody would consider a "Republican in law enforcement" - said "Nope". So it ain't just the Republicans at fault here, your heroes of tolerance and science blah blah are right there with them.

    But keep thumping the tub for your tribe, dude. Without your false sense of smug superiority you wouldn't have much left to live for.

    And just in case you want to deny it:

    http://www.takepart.com/articl.....ic-science

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Not a fan of polemical tub-thumping, bevis?

    Or just aggravated when the advocacy is for -- rather than against -- tolerance, progress, reason, etc.?

    Carry on, clinger.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Arty, it's funny you have some sense of superiority over any of us. Some of the people that you de grate here are clearly more intelligent, educated, and accomplished than you lu could ever hope to be. I myself likely have several dozen IQ points over you and a far better and broader education. Clearly my cognitive abilities are far superior to yours.

    You must live in a state of constant denial. You being a high school dropout in menial job working for a successful conservative. Your only real post dropout education being hackneyed talking points you receive as marching orders from hack sites like 'Think Orogress', amd Media Matters'.

    Still, I'm sure the t run those treasonous websites consider you to be the ideal progressive drone for their Marxist collective.

    Carry on comrade!

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Not to defend Art Kinkaid, but how do you know your IQ is higher, Last of the Shitforbrains? Or that other posters are smarter and more successful?
    The federalist comment threads are full of bloward Contards who think they're the smartest, richest guys in the room. Tell us about your super-hot wife and maybe we'll be impressed.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I myself likely have several dozen IQ points over you

    People familiar with standard English do not begin sentences with "I myself," you bigoted, half-educated rube.

  • VinniUSMC||

    One need not be familiar with standard English to have an IQ higher than you Artie (95 isn't exactly something to be proud of). Or are only English speakers capable of having a higher IQ than you? Bigot.

  • bevis the lumberjack||

    Not a fan of polemical tubthumping from anyone, Rev. Also not a fan of smug arrogance in the absence of any basis for it, which seems to be your most prominent personality feature.

    Note that I provided you with information that demonstrated that your side prefers convicting people who may or may not be innocent instead over actual science and reason and progress. Also note that your response was totally devoid of substance - you just went with your schtick, which is easily demonstrated to be bullshit several times a day.

    Carry on, zealot.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    My side is imperfect, particularly with respect to libertarianism and law enforcement issues.

    Your side is bigoted, backward, gullible, and ignorant.

    That is why my side wins the culture war and your side mutters bitterly about all of this damned progress, reason, science, education, and tolerance.

  • bevis the lumberjack||

    I don't have a side, you blithering dipshit. That's the point.

    As is typical of a zealot, you assume that anybody who disagrees with anything you think simply MUST be the other tribe.

    You're totally incapable of objective thought. You always blather about tolerance and reason and education and science, etc, but you never demonstrate any personal capacity for any of that stuff.

  • Flinch||

    I expect he's a Colin Powell type: talk smack, then go pull a straight D ticket.

  • jagjr||

    I think you mean Republican or Democrat in law enforcement. the tendency toward "big-government authoritarianism, result-driven morality, and a demand for police and prosecutorial freedom from accountability" has been remarkably consistent between members of/appointees of both parties over the last few decades. while some of their other attributes varied widely, those 3 particular attributes are hallmarks of such different folks as Loretta Lynch, Jeff Sessions, Eric Holder, Rod Rosenstein, Janet Reno, John Ashcroft, and many more from both sides of the aisle. also worth noting is that those attributes were common to every President from Clinton to Trump, and to both major party candidates in the 2016 Presidential election. it's pathetic, it's contrary to American values, and it's got to stop - vote, and vote third party!!

  • Hank Phillips||

    Finally! The reason entrenched looter parties lie, cheat, steal and murder is rooted in their dedication to the initiation of deadly force. They define themselves as centrist, meaning smack in the middle between Hitler nationalsocialism and Stalin internationalsocialism--like Poland in 1939. Is that where you want to be?
    We call them looters for good reason, and nobody expects honesty from looters.

  • Agammamon||

    . . . false premise that a scientific method must be instrument-based, automated, and quantitative, excluding human interpretation and judgment.

    No, that's actually the scientific method.

  • Happy Chandler||

    If you don't think human interpretation and judgment are involved, your involvement of science must come from the CSI shows.

  • Trollificus||

    I'm sure a lot of jurors have formed their concept of the reliability of these forensic techniques from Abby Sciutto on NCIS. I mean, she once pulled a fingerprint off a metal post reflected in a car mirror...in a security cam image! Awesome stuff. Another time, with just the color of a car and a partial tire print, she had its license plate number in half an hour!

    Hell, that's even better than science!

  • Longtobefree||

    And all that while running commercials!
    What a woman!

  • Tionico||

    Yup. Few non professionals pay money for science, but most will pay money for entertainment, which is what this NCIS and similar shows are all about. Gotta do something to make the crowd ooh and aah on cue. But the real trouble comes along when such entertainment is performed in front of a typical jury of the peers of the accused, who know often less than he does about such things. The jury gets wowed by the script, and buys it, and convicts based upon the fantasy world stuff............. and this kind of silly kid stuff nonsense is also the greater part of what lies at the root of the whole gun ban movement.. the Mad Mamas and their ilk. They parade junk "science" in front of an even more ignorant public to "prove" we have to get to "Mr and Mrs America, turn them all in" and the sooner we do the better off we'll all be..... they say.

  • Agammamon||

    The history of the scientific method has been removing human interpretation and judgement. The instrument-based, automated, and qualitative parts are most of the reason why we've been able to do that.

    Calibrate your instruments and you'll get the same results - to within known error limits - and there's no 'yeah, that sort of looks like the same blue on the reference card'.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Reference cards suck.

  • DenverJ||

    The Department of Justice, no less than the Innocence Project, should want to ensure that only reliable science is used in criminal prosecutions because we are all harmed when the wrong person is convicted of a crime."

    Horseshit. The Department of Justice is in no way harmed when the wrong person is convicted. There are no disincentives for throwing the wrong person in prison. The prosecutors still get their w, and after enough w's they get promoted.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    That prosecutors suffer no ill effects is a huge problem. The fist step in correcting it would be to pass legislation or establish president such that a prosecutor who knowingly suppresses evidence or solicits testimony he has reason to believe is false is put on trial for conspiracy, and in capitol cases for conspiracy to commit murder.

    The forensics problem, the issues with drug test reliability, and ceasing to place great reliance on drug sniffing dogs should be addressed too, and soon.

  • Longtobefree||

    Come on now; all this forensics stuff is as confirmed and validated as global climate warming change.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Is that a Liberty or Oral Roberts science degree talking, or something you remember from the discount-bin homeschooling outline your mother used?

  • Lowdog||

    It is well established, among actual scientists, that much of this forensic science is bullshit. But, convictions and the puclic's trust in our justice system means that this bullshit is still acceptable.

    There are other problems in science with bias and a lack of real scientific rigor, but at least in those cases we're only talking about wasted money, not lives. Although the damage to human progress is still very problematic.

  • Trollificus||

    But...but...if we ban the straw, of what will the things SJWs and progtards oppose be constructed?

  • John C. Randolph||

    Well, there you have it: Rosenstein is not a law man, he is an obedience enforcer. Fuck him, fuck Trump for appointing him, and fuck the Senators who voted to let him have a job he is clearly not fit to perform.

    -jcr

  • jagjr||

    umm. he was an appointed official in the Justice Dept under Bush, Obama, and Trump. he wasn't just a Trump appointee.

  • John C. Randolph||

    I stand corrected. Fuck Bush for appointing him, then.

    -jcr

  • Mark22||

    "Most of you work on the front lines of the criminal justice system, where forensic science has been under attack in recent years,"

    A century ago, he would have defended scientific racism.

  • Wearenotperfect||

    I still feel bad for the "Snaggletooth Killer".
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Krone

  • jagjr||

    "Those arguments are based on the false premise that a scientific method must be instrument-based, automated, and quantitative, excluding human interpretation and judgment. "

    I don't think that phrase, "scientific method", means what he thinks it means. science must be repeatable and objectively measurable. certainly judgement has a place, but only with a solid foundation of science, which Mr. Rosenstein doesn't seem to grasp at all.

  • Cyto||

    Yup.

    What is missing from forensics is proper controls, blinding and a foundation of evidence that shows the true error and success rates of a technique. Many of these were never even attempted. Things like blood spatter and hair matching were just obvious, so nobody bothered to do the experiments needed to validate the techniques.

    Even the experts can be deceptive, even when the technique is potentially sound. I remember a lot of testimony from an expert pathologist during the OJ Simpson trial. One thing they kept harping on was a bottle of EDTA that was expired in the DNA lab. The expert tried to imply that this meant that the testing was invalid. But if you understood how the test worked (they had positive and negative control samples) and what EDTA does (it chelates calcium), you'd know that they had proven that the EDTA was fine. Putting an expiration date on EDTA is a little silly anyway - it kinda lasts effectively forever in a concentrate like that - they just do it so they have a protocol in place. So he knew they were pulling at a false thread, but testified with great seriousness anyway.

  • Uncle Jay||

    One can only speculate how many innocent people are (were) in prison due to botched forensic science.

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is like the pseudoscience behind the freon ban. Only 1/9 of humanity lives in the Southern Hemisphere, so if people put holes in ozone the thing would be over the North Pole, where there is no volcano spewing chlorine in recent millenia. The high-pressure substitutes for real freon break air conditioners, so the same government pseudoscience bureaucracies promptly altered temperature records to invent global warming and explain away the problem they themselves caused. Actual government thermometers show no warming trend for the past 100 years, and this is confirmed by satellite data. That forensics is likewise susceptible to fraud is no surprise.

  • VinniUSMC||

    "The idea that we're scientists, so don't challenge us, is very, very dangerous for the criminal justice system, and quite frankly dangerous for science too."

  • Uncle Jay||

    "Rod Rosenstein Defends Bad Forensic Science"

    Should read: Rod Rosenstein defends innocent people being imprisoned for bad forensic science.
    There.
    FIFY.
    You're welcome.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online