Forensic Science Assessments: A Quality and Gap Analysis

With funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, AAAS conducted an analysis of the underlying scientific bases for the forensic tools and methods currently used in the criminal justice system. This project evaluated the scientific underpinnings of forensic practices, and, where these fall short, recommended a research agenda for the field.


Project Staff were invited to speak at the 8th meeting of the National Commission on Forensic Science on December 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. Following a brief presentation to the Commission in August 2014 to announce the project’s launch, this second presentation updated both the Commission and the public on the project’s current status. Staff summarized the project’s goals and timeline as well as some of the challenges faced thus far.  The AAAS project is part of a larger array of ongoing activities by a number of public and private organizations to strengthen the scientific foundation of forensic science. View the presentation here

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. 

Forensic Disciplines

  1. Fire Investigation -- view working group members 
  2. Latent Fingerprints -- 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
Professor of Law 
Widener University 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

Jeff Salyards, PhD, MFS
Director, Defense Forensic Science Center
Defense Forensics & Biometrics Agency

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