Monday, March 14, 2016

Convicted by a Hair: Laboratory Misconduct in the Courtroom

Science Magazine recently posted a self-quiz on forensics (see here). The results are important because so many of us know so little about what actually is, and is not, science. (I scored just over the median.) Most informative - and disturbing to me - were these two:

  • Twenty-six of 28 FBI hair analysts who were investigated provided testimony or submitted laboratory reports with “grossly exaggerated” data that often helped prosecutors.
  • Very small amounts of DNA can lead to false positives…. Analysts have picked up DNA transferred from one person to another by way of an object that both of them have touched, or from one piece of evidence to another when two items jostled against each other in an evidence bag.

On the upside, from that quiz, bite marks have been disallowed as evidence here in Texas. Unfortunately, tire tracks, shoe prints, lip prints, and repressed dreams were not part of that decision.

PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS
The Fallibility of Fingerprinting
Star of Wonder: Arguments over the Christmas Star
Austin Energy 2016 Regional Science Festival
Impossible Usually is Not

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