The Problem of Modern Forensic Science: Novices can become experts at the push of a button

I have lamented before about the horrible state of affairs that has developed in modern forensic science and in particular instrumentation. As an industry, the machine manufacturers seek to automate and make these processes so simple that they no longer require true understanding of the underlying science or the process that makes the machine do as it does. So what we end up with are under-trained, uneducated, and ill-informed button pushers performing complicated science and reporting out results without a true appreciation or ability to evaluate the results to determine whether or not they are relevant or correct.

What is worse is that these button pushers are given the title by the government of “forensic scientist” and are produced in court as experts. Clearly, they are neither. They are not scientists, but merely technicians. They are not experts, but merely button pushers. Button pushers are simply repeaters of a protocol or instruction set. They follow instructions. They perform step 1, then 2, then 3 then 4. Experts understand and can explain the process as well as the underlying science that results in the procedure and instructions. They, unlike the button pushers, can explain why the process is not 1, 3, 4, and 2, but must be 1, 2, 3, and 4. They can also explain why step 2 needs to be performed in the specified manner. They also can explain what happens if step 2 is skipped altogether.

What we should have in court to answer questions and produce evidence to the trier of fact are true subject matter experts who understand the true science of it all, yet by and large we have button pushers in court who are presented to the jury falsely as experts.

The problem of this perhaps is obvious.

As I mentioned, there is a conscious effort by the machine manufacturers to produce these push button solutions. If they can dumb down the instrumentation to a point where no training or little training is needed, then they can sell more machines as more folks can use them. Their motive is profit. They make more profit if they can open up the technology for more people to use. While I am an affirmed capitalist, this is dangerous and evil. In fact at the most recent American Chemical Society National Meeting held in Denver, Colorado while I was visiting the exhibition hall where the various machine manufacturers were selling their products, I came across one manufacturer who was blatant about it:

Novices can become experts in a push of a button

From novice to expert in a push of a button
From novice to expert in a push of a button

Just because you get A result, does not mean it is the correct (true) result (free of calibration error and free of bias). Just because you get a correct result, doesn’t mean you have a relevant result. This is why we need to make sure that we educate these machine operators beyond the task of pushing a button. Our liberty and justice depends on it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *