Forensic Science Assessments: A Quality and Gap Analysis

AAAS conducted an analysis of the underlying scientific bases for the forensic tools and methods currently used in the criminal justice system. The project evaluated the scientific underpinnings the forensic community relies on to support their practices and, where these fall short, recommended areas requiring further study. This "gap analysis" produced a research agenda that will serve as the basis for arriving at forensic methods that will inspire greater confidence in our criminal justice system. 

About the Project

For many years, there have been claims that the forensic sciences are neither valid nor reliable and may not meet the admissibility standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1993 Daubert ruling. The claims were underscored in a 2009 report of the National Research Council that found that forensic science as currently practiced has “little systematic research to validate the discipline’s basic premises and techniques.” This report does not, however, specify what in the literature supports current forensic practice and what does not, nor does it provide a research agenda for moving forward. Several members of the recently-appointed National Commission on Forensic Science have commented on the need for further analysis. 

AAAS partially filled this void by conducting a quality and gap analysis of two forensic disciplines (see below). Working groups were appointed for each forensic field, and a distinguished Advisory Committee advised on every aspect of the overall project. 

Update

Project staff are pleased to announce the release of the second report, Latent Fingerprint Examination.

Forensic science is an important tool for investigating crime and helping to determine guilt or innocence at trial, but questions have been raised about the validity and reliability of many forensic disciplines. A crucial National Research Council report issued in 2009 noted that most forensic disciplines have not been subjected to rigorous scientific study, arising as they have from crime labs, not academia. Further, there was no way to know which aspects of these disciplines were based on a solid scientific footing and which were not. This report examines the bases for latent fingerprint examination, and sets forth what we know, what we do not know, and what the gaps are. The 14 recommendations in the report constitute a roadmap for further research. Scientists and funding agencies can use this research agenda in setting priorities for further studies, including the involvement of scientists in the natural and social sciences. The report should also help key actors in the criminal justice system–law enforcement, lawyers, and judges–make more informed decisions.

Please read the AAAS News story, Fingerprint Source Identity Lacks Scientific Basis for Legal Certainty.

The first report, Fire Investigation, was authored by a working group consisting of a fire investigator, and four academic scientists. The report is a thorough evaluation of the current status of the forensic discipline of fire investigation. The report includes conclusions and recommendations setting forth what we know about fire investigation, what we don't know, and what are the gaps in knowledge requiring further research. 

For the "plain language" version, click here

For a summary of the technical report, click here

For the AAAS news article, click here

Forensic Disciplines

  1. Fire Investigation -- view working group members 
  2. Latent Fingerprint Analysis -- view working group members 

Advisory Committee

Martha Bashford, JD
Chief, Sex Crimes Unit
New York County District Attorney

Shari Seidman Diamond, JD, PhD
Professor of Law and Psychology
Northwestern University School of Law
Research Professor, American Bar Foundation

Itiel Dror, PhD
University College of London & Cognitive Consultants International Ltd.

Jules Epstein, JD
Director of Advocacy Programs
Temple Beasley School of Law

Barbara Hervey, JD
Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Gilbert S. Omenn, MD, PhD
Director, Center for Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics
University of Michigan

Hal Stern, PhD
Professor of Statistics
University of California, Irvine

AAAS Staff

Mark S. Frankel, Project Director
Deborah Runkle, Project Manager
Michelle Barretta, Project Assistant

Fire Investigations Working Group
Jose Almirall, Ph.D (Chair) (Chemistry) Florida International University 
Hal Arkes, Ph.D (Cognitive Psychology/Human Factors) Ohio State University
John Lentini, CFI, D-ABC (Forensic Science) Scientific Fire Analysis, LLC.
Frederick Mowrer, Ph.D (Fire Protection Engineering/Fire Science) California Polytechnic State University
Janusz Pawliszyn, Ph.D (Analytical Chemistry) University of Waterloo

Latent Fingerprint Analysis Working Group
John Black (Forensic Science) Black & White Forensics, LLC. 
Anil Jain, Ph.D(Biometric Engineering) Michigan State University 
Jay Kadane, Ph.D (Statistics) Carnegie Mellon University 
William Thompson, J.D., Ph.D. (Chair) (Human Factors) University of California, Irvine