Forensic identification: science or pseudoscience?


Crime scene management and investigation refers to the activity that goes on at an actual crime scene rather than in a forensics laboratory. However, the physical and trace evidence gathered in the field at a crime scene will eventually be analyzed in a forensics laboratory and the analyses conducted govern the types of evidence collected at a scene. Many individuals tend to accept as absolute truth that forensic laboratory testing and results are scientific in nature. However, much criticism has been leveled in recent years that many of the techniques used have never been validated and no known error rates have been established. Without this information, we cannot be sure how often forensic examiners make errors in judgment or to what extent these errors are influenced by what the examiner already knows about the case. This has broad implications in criminal investigation.

For this week’s assignment, you will step out of the crime scene and into the forensics laboratory for a look at some known issues and criticisms in forensic laboratory testing as well as in credentialing someone to be classified as an “expert” forensic examiner. It is beneficial to understand what happens with the evidence collected at the crime scene once it goes to the laboratory. Your research for this paper may cause you to question the reliability and validity of commonly relied upon forensic evidence in criminal trials. However, your job as a scholar (and criminal investigator) is to evaluate objectively what you are learning and arrive at a conclusion that is based on information from credible sources.

First, watch the Frontline documentary The Real CSI (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. and then discuss the following in your paper using the National Academy of Sciences 2009 report (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. (Chapters 2, 4, and 5) as a credible resource to support your assertions:

  • Summarize the Brandon Mayfield case, focusing on the idea that no two fingerprints are alike despite the fact that this has never been tested. Identify what type of testing would need to be done to ensure that the assertion that “no two fingerprints are alike” is true? Examine whether or not this type of testing is feasible and why or why not.
  • Analyze what role cognitive bias might play in influencing the forensic lab results of tests in areas such as fingerprint identification, firearms identification, bite mark identification, or the “smell of death” technique described in the Frontline film.
  • There is much criticism that techniques used in fingerprint identification and other types of forensic identification described in the NAS report (Chapter 5) are inherently unscientific because there have been no validation studies. Without validation studies that establish known error rates, these methods cannot be said to be scientifically sound. Recommend whether or not to use commonly accepted scientific techniques that have not been scientifically validated and supports these recommendations with research materials.
  • Suggest at least one intervention to overcome the effects of cognitive bias that may influence a forensic examiner’s identification decision.
  • Analyze the type of training and credentials forensic examiners should have in order to work in a forensics lab. Provide recommendations for training and credentialing forensic examiners to ensure that they are adequately trained.

The Forensic Identification: Science or Pseudoscience? Paper:

  • Must be three  double-spaced pages in length (not including title and references pages) 
  • Must include a separate title page with the following
  • In Text Citing
  • Please include, in APA style, at least three credible and/or scholarly resources sources in including the NAS report 
  • Must document all sources in APA style 
  • Must include a separate references page that is formatted according to APA style 
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