The scientific framework of forensic science is it wrong?

The scientific method teaches us a linearized and pragmatic scheme of attempting to truly find the truth (or as near to the truth as we as humans are capable of achieving). The scientific method can be explained as follows:

  1. Define a question
  2. Gather information and resources (Make an observe)
  3. Form an explanatory and falsifiable hypothesis
  4. Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
  7. Publish results
  8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

The glorious part of true science is that we can preform experiments and try to falsify our experiments. In true science there is great joy in falsifying the hypothesis.

This is largely lacking in forensic science.

In forensic science, the state crime laboratory starts out with a hypothesis that it wishes to prove rather than the falsifiable hypothesis that it is seeking to disprove.

What is lost in a lot of politics of crime is that a state crime laboratory is the people’s laboratory paid for by our taxpayer money. It is not the state’s crime laboratory. It is the people’s laboratory. Therefore, it should exist to aid the citizens and not the prosecuting authority. As such, as they are the people’s laboratory, and if they are performing legitimate true science they should start with a falsifiable hypothesis that is consistent not with guilt (as they now do) but that of innocence. It’s job should be to try to exonerate the people who are accused of a crime.

For example, in the context of blood alcohol, the laboratory should start out with the hypothesis that there is no ethanol in the blood sample and then look to design an experiment that seeks to falsify that hypothesis. If there is determined to be ethanol in the sample, then the laboratory should work hard to try to disprove this by really scrutinizing the data to look for error that will invalidate the result. As it exists in the US today, the crime laboratory does the opposite of this. The crime laboratory starts out with the notion that there must be ethanol in the blood and therefore sets up experiments to confirm this notion and totally ignores data that is contrary to innocence or would make the conclusion non-validated or invalid even if it obviously exists. If they get a number, they like it and seek to justify it against all data to the contrary.

There is great joy in a true experiment deigned and conducted correctly.

I offer you this fun clip from TED.

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