What is the relevant scientific community for the Drug Recognition Expert?
I, like an astonishing 500 million people, have a Facebook profile. I primarily use it to connect with friends and colleagues. I like it a lot. One day, Facebook suggested that I try to join the group DrugRecognitionExpert. The page states:
Simply, this Facebook-based group is intended to facilitate communication among Drug Recognition Experts (whether active or not), prosecutors, toxicologists, researchers, other professionals, and supporters of our efforts against alcohol and drug-impaired driving.
This piqued my interest. For quite some time, I have published scientific texts and articles on DRE, as well as researched and presented on this diagnostic tool. So, I did as Facebook suggested. I attempted to join.
The group is managed by one person, Thomas E. Page. Let me be clear, this is the United States of America. He has a right to make his Facebook community open to all or closed. He can discriminate against inclusion of members for any or no reason under the sun. I wish he wouldn’t, but it is his unquestionable right. However, that does not mean that a decision to discriminate is not without consequences, nor should it be.
Personally, I find Mr. Page’s blog postings on his blog to be worth the read. There is a lot of good historical information on the formation of the DRE program that would most likely be lost to history without his postings. You should see his blog which is called “Drug Recognition Expert.” He also took the time once to correct an embarrassing gaffe that I made on a blog post about the DRE re-purposed test that they call the Finger to Nose Test. In fact, I kept his comments up and thanked him for the correction publicly as you can read in that post. I also asked him to further engage which to this date he has not. (Perhaps, in fairness, he missed my reply.) As someone who values science, I believe that if one is wrong, then one should acknowledge it and correct it. [I found great instruction in Carl Sagan’s Keynote address at CSICOP conference (1987) when he said “In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.] I was embarrassed by the gaffe, but I kept it public because he was right and I was wrong. That confession of error (the joy of falsification) with open, transparent and scientific debate along with the respectful fee flow of information is the hallmark of science and scientific endeavors. Sadly, I find it lacking in most forensic science.
Further, good science and good research hides nothing. Everything about the science should be “transparent”, i.e., readily available for review. This includes all of the raw data developed during any study — even the data points that were thrown out or discounted. Having transparency ensures that the study is completely reproducible, allowing others the opportunity to reproduce the results. Studies where information has been lost or is unavailable should be viewed with extreme caution. Without it, there can be no rational criticism and no advancement of scientific knowledge.
Here is what was written about Mr. Page in a publication that he authored in terms of his educational and professional background:
Without a rival, Thomas E. Page is the most public figure in support of the DRE protocol today. Due to his blog posts, his experience, his passionate defense of the protocol in court and also in the press, he has earned the position as the public police face of DRE. He may say that he does not like such a moniker (perhaps he does) but it is what it is.
It is interesting to note that when Frye or Daubert challenges to the admissibility of the DRE tool are made one of the questions becomes:
“What is the relevant scientific community for DRE?”
Often, the defense offers no experts either because of lack of funds or due to a defense attorney who means well but should not be attempting to mount this type of challenge flubbers his or her way in court and has no idea about the science of it all. As a result, that key question gets to be defined by the testimony of the experts that the prosecution calls. Some courts have defined the relevant scientific community as being police officers as opposed to actual scientific fields such as pharmacology and analytical chemistry. So, in essence, they have defined the relevant scientific community to be people such as Mr. Page. I disagree with that, but that is the way the opinions read.
So mindful of that, I created a falsifiable hypothesis stated as a question:
If the police community is the relevant scientific community, is it truly scientific? I posit yes, it is.
Let’s define what it means to be truly scientific:
- Transparency, openness, and the free exchange of information is science.
- If the relevant scientific community is not open to falsification, then by definition, it can not be scientific.
- A scientific community must seek and enjoy alternative points of view that question its body of knowledge.
- All knowledge claims should be open to rational criticism. [In other areas of knowledge such as aesthetics, a knowledge claim does not depend on reason or logic, so for it to be open to rational criticism may be unsuitable, but for science, it must.]
- Science as an area of knowledge is heavily reliant on rational and empirical criticism as a method of improving the body of knowledge as well as confirming it and so should be open to rational criticism even if the knowledge is considered factual.
So let’s test out our hypothesis. Here was the exchange of Facebook messages between us:
Here is one point of data. As Einstein said: “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” Am I proved right that when it comes to DRE, the relevant scientific community that has been held by courts to be police is open and truly scientific? Well, I am certainly not proved correct based upon this exchange. While Thomas E. Page is not a community by himself, he is a prolific member of it. A lot of DRE officers do look to him for cues. Admittedly, he does not have a formal title or formal recognition in the DRE community that I know of (other than what he claims as “DRE emeritus”), but due to his historical involvement and his testimony in many states, he may well be representative of the attitudes of that community or at least a segment of it.
As one of my good friends in science and in the courtroom Attorney Michelle Thomas Reedus wrote about this on my Facebook page:
The level of paranoia that many of them have is VERY telling. Their automatic assumptions about the defense bar is what gets them in deep doo doo time & time again!…
I cannot disagree in this instance.
So I offer this call to action. In 1985, NHTSA conducted a Field Validation Study of the LAPD DRE program. This study, which is also commonly known as the 173 Case Study resulted in a publication. To date, to my knowledge, there has never been a release of all of the underlying data. For the sake of science, Mr. Page, will you release all of your notes, publish them and encourage all of your colleagues to do the same?