Strengthening Forensic Science

Junk Science

The presentation of "scientific" evidence or data has been demonstrated to be very compelling to juries. Science sounds exact, impartial, and free from prejudice. Though portrayed as modern science in its day, bloodletting is now considered laughable, if it were not for its dire consequences. Much of what has been presented in courtrooms as "scientific" is no different. Perhaps because the type of testimony is generally not used with the common citizen, it has fallen under even less scrutiny. Scroll down to see the 60 Minutes' example: Evidence of Injustice: Bullet Lead Analysis.

June 11, 2012 - The FBI will review thousands of convictions based on possibly faulty hair analysis!

A watershed report was issued by the National Academy of Sciences looking at the state of forensics from a scientific reliability viewpoint. It shows that much of what has passed in the courtroom as "scientific" is anything but that.

The NAS's Press Release on the report presents a good overview.

Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States - The full report available online.

Listen to the briefing. Requires Real Player

Other links to the Report including Podcasts

There is another side of "junk science" and it is not always the "science" part; it is the people who are reporting the "science".   Listen to this NPR article

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60 Minutes' Evidence of Injustice: Bullet Lead Analysis

The example of faulty junk science we chose had been used to put many persons behind bars and was highly regarded by no less than the FBI until 2007. It took someone who retired from the FBI to take the time to examine and 'test the tests' to see if they delivered as promised. The fact that it was so highly regarded and used in cases when there was really no other credible evidence is no less than a nightmare to those who suffered unjustly, and an embarrassment to anyone who might have thought that the weight of modern science stood behind it.