Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Separate police, labs because of bias

Abigail Goldman writes in Monday's Las Vegas Sun:

The National Academy of Sciences spent two years studying the state of forensic science in America. The resulting report, released in February, isn’t pretty. Forensic science is shoddy, our country’s crime labs are fragmented, forensic scientists aren’t adequately certified and the science of solving crime is dangerously inconsistent — disturbing findings that lead to perhaps the most controversial conclusion in the report: Crime labs need to be independent of law enforcement agencies because forensic scientists who work for police are prone to subtle, contextual bias.

This is different from the egregious cases of forensic investigators allegedly rubber-stamping the work of detectives — as in Los Angeles, where the police department is reviewing hundreds of fingerprint identifications after lab examiners falsely implicated at least two people in crimes.

Contextual bias is more nuanced, brought to light by research such as a 2006 study at University of Southhampton, in the U.K., where academics re-presented fingerprints to examiners who had previously studied them and, with some contextual prodding (such as saying “the suspect has confessed”), prompted the examiners to stray from their original findings.

Read the rest of Goldman's article here.

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