Earlier this week, I posted “Today’s accepted science is subject to review and is evolutionary“. In that post I posited:
Science is a wonderful thing. It is perhaps the greatest organized device known for discovering the truth. However, it is not infallible. Today’s scientific axiom is tomorrow’s discredited idea. That is why I suggest that we as lawyers dealing with forensic science related aspects are living in a great time of fundamental change. It is exciting to be part of it. Not so exciting if you are the accused…
…when we all get in the courtroom it is only natural, proper and correct to question the science. Our understanding of forensic science and its axioms should be no different.
As a good friend and colleague of mine, Kirby Riffel of Arkansas, once wrote:
A recent lecture pointed out that nearly 100% of scientific dogma in 1905 (when Einstein published the special theory of relativity) has been since falsified, amended, re-stated or has a major anomaly that is inconsistent with existing theory. That is the nature of true science,whose ethics demand a skeptical attitude and takes joy in falsification as the appointed path to greater knowledge. The corollary is that it is most likely that current dogma will not withstand the next 50 years.
Sadly, there is no such “joy in falsification” in forensic science. The inertia is so great and the anecdote so entrenched that even when there is accepted falsification of any hypothesis that is foundational to some discipline in forensic science, there is no joy and the findings are dismissed with the constant refrain of anti-empiricists, which is their anthem of— “this is the way we always did it”. It is sad that generally-speaking forensic science is not like real science. Hopefully this will change. It is up to us.
So now it seems that the subject of the analogy in the post, the revelation of a new form of life that is bacteria whose DNA uses arsenic instead of phosphorus — unlike any other life form on earth–exists is now itself being questioned. What is the reaction of Felisa Wolfe-Simon, the researcher????
She welcomed it!
My research team and I are aware that our peer-reviewed Science article has generated some technical questions and challenges from within the scientific community. Questions raised so far have been consistent with the range of issues outlined by journalist Elizabeth Pennisi in her Science news article, which was published along with our research. For instance, other scientists have asked whether the bacteria had truly incorporated arsenic into their DNA, and whether the microbes had completely stopped consuming phosphorus. Our manuscript was thoroughly reviewed and accepted for publication by Science; we presented our data and results and drew our conclusions based on what we showed. But we welcome lively debate since we recognize that scholarly discourse moves science forward. We’ve been concerned that some conclusions have been drawn based on claims not made in our paper. In response, it’s our understanding that Science is in the process of making our article freely available to the public for the next two weeks to ensure that all researchers have full access to the findings. We invite others to read the paper and submit any responses to Science for review so that we can officially respond. Meanwhile, we are preparing a list of “frequently asked questions” to help promote general understanding of our work.
The original researcher is seeking to be totally transparent, open and to release all of her data for VERIFICATION.
Sadly, this joy in falsification, skepticism in results and openness to verification is not the case in government-sponsored forensic science as practiced today in America. Oftentimes, if you question results and methods and try to falsify a hypothesis, point out a lack of meaningful scientific validity in the method and process undertaken, you get branded “crazy”, you are personally attacked and even threatened with prosecution.
One needs to look no further than the saga of Frederic Whitehurst, PhD.