But they’re fixing forensic science, right?

Why can’t ASCLD or other accrediting agencies or the new DOJ/NIST National Forensic Science Commission be trusted to fix forensic science?

I posted a harsh but true opinion piece about the newly appointed and announced National Forensic Science Commission (NFSC) here:

Let the great whitewash begin: The National Forensic Science Commission

This opinion piece provoked a lot of emails. More than another post here to date. Some were unintelligible garbage that simply were ad hominem attacks. Others agreed with me in part or in whole. One person (who would not allow me to make public his or her email and would not give me permission to use his or her name in this post) who was deeply associated with the American Society for Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), but was not authorized to speak on behalf of ASCLD, simply asked “Justin, the NFSC is a good thing. It will end up forcing all laboratories to become accredited.”

We have blogged on the good and bad of accreditation on this blog before:

Why don’t crime laboratories lose their accreditation more often?

Is your state crime lab accredited?

While that would be nice and a very small baby step forward. It will not meaningfully change the “badly fragmented system” as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council found forensic science to be in 2009. I have no doubt that such a requirement will be recommended through this commission. As to ASCLD, that is great. It is a huge boon for business. Champagne bottles will be popping that day. But for the general public, it will mean next to nothing. For science, it will mean little. Before I criticize ASCLD, I want to give it some credit. I think it made a necessary step towards recognizing the need to move towards international standards such as ISO 17025 in its new International standard. However, the use of extension after extension after extension to laboratories or providing waivers has just proven that ASCLD is a bunch of busywork for laboratories and a pay to play society. I agree with a lot of the strong criticism of ASCLD as found at the stories at http://www.bulletpath.com/ Because ASCLD is simply a glorified rubber stamp that puts lipstick on a lot of pigs, there is no way that ASCLD or any other accrediting agency’s stamp on a laboratory should be enough. Is it better than nothing? Sure. But let’s not all jump for joy.

Accreditation won't fix forensic science
Accreditation won’t fix forensic science

This operation of DOJ/NIST is little more than very light political whitewashing to assuage the public and assure them “with the greatest amount of confidence” that the emperor in fact does have clothes on although we can all see he does not.

NIST/DOJ NFSC won't fix forensic science
NIST/DOJ NFSC won’t fix forensic science

By and large, the crime laboratories of America have no oversight whatsoever. None. There is no one to complain to if the science is bad. Each one is like the long ago European principality that enjoys it’s own total autonomy. It makes up its own rules and policies beholden to none. It does not follow its own rules. It covers up error rather than expose and correct. Everyone covers for each other. What is good and right Tuesday is not good and right Wednesday. Basically they flaunt the law because they are the law givers, the law interpreters and the sole determiners of the law when it comes to science being presented in the courtroom.

Sadly today, the only seeming very minor oversight comes from the press. However, at the present, the press cares little about the day to day infractions (which are much more frequent) of good science that frustrates justice and acts like a thumb in the eye to valid science, but instead only cares about issues if the numbers affected reach well into the thousands or someone powerful or personally connected to the paper or its publishers are involved.

Until there is some sort of powerful ombudsman for science that is not integrated into either the prosecution or forensic science culture, nothing will change. Justice will lose. You will lose. We all lose.

This is the canary in the coal mine folks. This much heralded committee will mark the regression of forensic science, not its proper evolution.

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