Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Transactions – ST
LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, MO - Aug 19, 2005
...no cash, no credit card or no checks equals no
problem -- just use your finger...
Marine Who Deserted In 1965 Caught In Florida
- Aug 17, 2005
...fingerprints matched those of a 40 year deserter...
Madrid Bombing Suspect Arrested in Serbia –
LEDGER, FL - Aug 17, 2005
...sample of his fingerprints to Interpol, where they matched prints
provided by Spain...
Britain's Thickest Shoplifter
GLASGOW DAILY RECORD, UK - Aug 20, 2005
...he's caught nicking a computer from a
shop selling CCTV cameras...
Recent Message Board Posts
I need input, ALL trainers, Kasey, Pat, Glenn, Ron, Jon, etc.
Guest Sat Aug 20, 2005 3:54 pm
stacy Thu Aug 18, 2005 3:19 pm
Michelle Wed Aug 17, 2005 4:39 am
Mike French Tue Aug 16, 2005 2:51 pm
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
No major updates on the website this week.
we looked at the recent NPR radio program that was
critical of forensic science. It was based on data from the innocence
project, as is this week's Detail.
Glenn Langenburg brings us three points in reference
to a recent article that appeared in Science magazine. You have to pay $10
to access the article, unless you are a member of Science online:
Abstract: Converging legal and scientific forces are pushing the
traditional forensic identification sciences toward fundamental change. The
assumption of discernible uniqueness that resides at the core of these fields is
weakened by evidence of errors in proficiency testing and in actual cases.
Changes in the law pertaining to the admissibility of expert evidence in court,
together with the emergence of DNA typing as a model for a scientifically
defensible approach to questions of shared identity, are driving the older
forensic sciences toward a new scientific paradigm.
"I am responding to the article by Saks and Koehler,
from the August issue of Science magazine. This is a rough draft of the letter I
am sending the editors. It is longer than I had anticipated, and it needs to be
trimmed. I may send two versions to them and just see what happens. Any comments
would be appreciated. I am trying to stick to the big points, because there was
a lot of little "nit-picky" stuff I had to just chalk up to "Saksian
I think it is very important for the community to write the editors and respond
to this article. Unlike the critics' usual platform of legal and forensic
science journals, they are now biasing a general science community with their
one-sided, and at times blatently false, arguments. We need to show them that if
they are going to step into a scientific arena, then they have to play by the
same rules that we do and "ante-up" if they wish to play at the table with the
Big Boys (and Girls of course). I would encourage others to write Science
magazine and let them know your opinions. I would also encourage Science
magazine to contact us for an informative article on forensic science and the
issues that we face."
Response of a Scientist to Msrs Saks' and
Koehler's article entitled "The Coming Paradigm Shift in Forensic Identification
Science" in Science, vol. 309, Aug 2005.
by Glenn Langenburg
The author holds a Masters of Science in
Chemistry, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Lausanne in
Switzerland, where his thesis is the statistical analysis of fingerprint
identification methodology. He is currently employed as a Forensic Scientist by
the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and instructs introductory
forensic science at two universities in Minnesota.
Having followed the works of Michael Saks for years in the forensic science
and law review journals, I read with surprise and interest that he would publish
in a general scientific publication read by millions of scientists and
“scientifically intrigued minds” world-wide. Much was my dismay when I realized
that Mr. Saks has once again published an article critical of forensic science,
with little proof, substance, or research to substantiate his attacks. The data
and proof he does offer, is at best woefully “misinterpreted”, and at worst,
deliberately misrepresented. I recognize that Mr. Saks is not the sole author of
this paper and from this point I will simply refer to the authors in tandem.
I agree with the basic premises of the authors’ article. There IS a paradigm
shift in forensic identification science. Research opportunities have become
available in the last decade in part due to Daubert (admissibility)
challenges. Other influences not discussed by the authors would include: 1)
affordable and powerful computer systems and software that was never available
in the past to analyze large databases of images 2) an increase in scientific
education and an evolution of the modern forensic scientist 3) the biometric
community’s interest in identification methods and 4) research grant money that
traditionally has been pumped into DNA research has now become available.
Research is vital to improving the forensic identification sciences and
improving the methodologies that we employ.
Beyond this basic message, the authors, who do not work within this field and
have a superficial knowledge of forensic science, made numerous misstatements. I
wish to address three major areas of concern to inform your readers of the gross
misinformation they have read.
“Lacking theoretical or empirical foundations, [there is an] assumption of
This is not true. There are for all the established identification
sciences (i.e. fingerprints, firearms examinations, handwriting comparison,
etc.) established theoretical and empirical foundations for the determination of
images having a common source (a match). The manner in which information is
transferred from a unique biological or physical source are well-known and
researched in each discipline. What the authors have failed to distinguish and
state clearly is that that HOW the expert makes the determination is the issue.
The BASIS and foundation is there and not an assumption, as the authors
state, the real issue is how do we make matches, and can we improve our
methodologies. Research is investigating our standards, criteria, and methods
for declaring matches.
The technology, databases, and opportunities have not been available. For 100
years, humans have done the best we can with training and experience. We are
using these new tools to investigate better methods and criteria for forensic
identifications. Our experiences in this field have shown that yes, errors can
and do happen and like any scientific method, the method is only as fallible as
the practitioner. However, the number of reported errors has been relatively
miniscule compared to the big picture, but there is always room for improvement.
The authors’ “study” and graph
Perhaps through no fault of their own, the popular media that has seized
onto this article, has referred to the authors’ data from the Innocence Project
as a “study”. My response to this misnomer is near vitriolic. The very thing
that Mr. Saks in the past has criticized forensic scientists for, he apparently
feels he is above.
The data shown in their graph has not been published in any scientific journals.
It has not been peer-reviewed. There is NO discussion of their sampling
techniques, methods, procedures or otherwise. There simply is no foundation to
this rather damning data.
The Innocence Project currently has 160+ cases of wrongful convictions
overturned—a true testament to the need for this valuable organization. Yet the
authors cited only 86 cases? How did they choose these 86? Forensic testing and
testimony was a major cause for the erroneous convictions. Were they from a
handful of scientists or many, i.e. a few “bad apples” or rampant incompetence?
Did the authors actually do a study, the way such a study should be done? Did
they retest the evidence in these cases and then have the appropriate expert
review the original scientist’s work and testimony to determine whether the test
was improperly conducted or the testimony was “false or misleading” based on the
original scientist’s results? OR, were these cases and testimonies reviewed by
lay people, law students, and Innocence Project volunteers and a scientific
determination made by these unqualified individuals? And just what were the
authors’ criteria for “false/misleading testimony” by forensic scientists,
having no experience themselves within this field?
Of the “forensic testing errors”, were these actual testing errors or simply
limitations of the tests and technology of the era? Mr. Koehler, in his August
12, 2005, NPR interview regarding this article, referred to serology tests that
were inclusive, yet more discriminating DNA tests performed years later could
exclude the individual. Are these the types of “errors” counted in this “study”?
In the article text the authors state that “erroneous forensic science expert
testimony is the second most common contributing factor to wrongful
convictions, found in 63% of those cases”. Yet in the graph, 63% of errors were
due to forensic testing errors. Which is it?
I find these numbers outrageous and implausible. Having worked with our local
chapter of the Innocence Project myself, my experiences and conversations with
attorneys have led to discussions of errors and causes. Eyewitness testimony has
always been cited as the leading cause (with which the authors seem to agree).
Additionally, attorneys have lamented to me about the lack of scientific
knowledge (and funding) within the legal defense community to recognize and
properly challenge inappropriate or false forensic evidence and testimony. Yet
in the authors’ graph, incompetent defense representation was one of the LOWEST
I challenge these authors to submit these data to a peer-reviewed scientific
journal with their methods, procedures, and source data clearly listed. If the
data and methods hold up under proper peer review and professional scrutiny,
then so be it. Until then, I caution the readers to view these data with
skepticism, as they simply do not appear accurate.
Error Rates and Proficiency Testing
I disagree with the assertion that error rates can be calculated for
comparisons performed by human examiners and then these error rates can be used
as a “predictive” measure to assess the probative value of the identification
and predict the probability that an error (false match) occurred.
In fact, one of the very “blue ribbon panels”(the National Research Council),
touted by the authors for their evaluation of forensic DNA use, concluded that
using error rates, especially error rates gathered from proficiency testing, is
inappropriate! The National Research Council stated in great detail the fallacy
of using error rates from proficiency tests as a measure of probability of
Were I to use the authors’ logic in this, I could look at the number of errors
committed in a baseball game between the Mets and Yankees, and let us say it was
quite high at 5 for each team. The next time these two teams meet, then there is
an equal chance that again each team will commit five errors. Obviously if this
were the case, bookmakers would be out of business. The fact is, humans learn
from mistakes. In some instances mistakes will not be made as the task is quite
simple and the human is quite skilled and experienced. In some instances the
conditions are quite challenging and a mistake could be made. In forensic
casework, the conditions are varied and we are human and fallible. Proper
quality assurance and quality control is imperative to reducing (but not
eliminating) the chance of error.
The authors referred to proficiency test errors of fingerprint experts were
“about 4 to 5%” false-positive errors on at least one fingerprint comparison.
This statement is patently false. The manufacturer of these proficiency tests
did not report a 4 to 5% “false-positive” error rate (erroneous matches) but
rather they reported that 4 to 5% of the answers “differed from the
manufacturer’s expected results”.
This is a critical distinction. If an examiner reports “inconclusive” (perhaps
they lacked the training and experience to make the match, or the match did not
meet their agency’s criteria for a match, etc.) this will be reported as
“differing from the manufacturer’s expected results”. This is not a false match
as the authors are reporting. Additionally, an examiner may have identified the
correct individual, but recorded the incorrect digit. This is a common
transcription error. Fingerprint experts have been known to identify the correct
individual, but inadvertently record the incorrect finger. The gravity of such
an error is miniscule when compared to making a false match. The authors did not
make any of these distinctions. Sadly, Mr. Saks has been made aware of these
issues in the past, but simply chooses to mislead and misrepresent. Again I take
exception to this gross, unethical, and inappropriate use of these data.
I cannot in good conscience read another Saks diatribe, this time reaching a
general science population. It is unfortunate, because the basic message of the
need for research and the amazing Kuhnian paradigm shifts that are
occurring—challenging old dogmatic beliefs and supporting new theories with
research and statistics—is wonderful and a great benefit to this discipline. Yet
the authors’ message is lost to the forensic science and jurisprudence community
as it is immersed in a sea of misrepresentations and false statements.
I challenge the authors to actually perform a research experiment designed to
test their theories and statements. I challenge the authors to attend the
identification conferences and become involved in the community that already
performing the research for which they are calling. They will find a new
generation of scientifically gifted and objective scientists, skilled at what we
do, but interested in discovering new ways to improve it.
Responses may be submitted at the following link:
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other
examiners. This is a free newsletter FOR
latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. There are no copyrights on
The Detail, and the website
is open for all to visit.
If you have not yet signed up to receive the Weekly Detail in YOUR e-mail inbox,
go ahead and join the list now
so you don't miss out! (To join this free e-mail newsletter, send a blank
e-mail from the e-mail address you wish to subscribe, to:
email@example.com) If you have
problems receiving the Detail from a work e-mail address, there have been past
issues with department e-mail filters considering the Detail as potential
unsolicited e-mail. Try subscribing from a home e-mail address or contact
your IT department to allow e-mails from Topica. Members may
unsubscribe at any time. If you have difficulties with the sign-up process
or have been inadvertently removed from the list, e-mail me personally at
firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try
to work things out.
Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!