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Recent CLPEX Posting Activity
containing new posts
Moderated by Steve Everist and Charlie Parker
Moderated by Steve Everist
- Legal Disclosure of Conflicting Conclusions in Latent Prints
by Kasey Wertheim on Sun Mar 08, 2009 5:25 pm
- 0 Replies
- 2 Views
- Last post by Kasey Wertheim
on Sun Mar 08, 2009 5:25 pm
- Lateral Reversal Latents on Tape (Research Request)
by C. Coppock on Tue Feb 24, 2009 3:33 am
- 3 Replies
- 172 Views
- Last post by C. Coppock
on Sun Mar 08, 2009 4:42 am
- NAS Report part II: foundation and reliability
by Michele on Sun Mar 01, 2009 4:53 pm
- 14 Replies
- 585 Views
- Last post by L.J.Steele
on Sun Mar 08, 2009 12:24 am
- Emotions and Motivation in Fingerprint Analysis
by Daktari on Fri Mar 06, 2009 3:54 pm
- 5 Replies
- 196 Views
- Last post by charlton97
on Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:06 pm
- Mexico Point Standard?
by Kasey Wertheim on Thu Mar 05, 2009 8:24 pm
- 3 Replies
- 190 Views
- Last post by Graham F
on Fri Mar 06, 2009 11:00 pm
- The bookstore
by gerritvolckeryck on Thu Mar 05, 2009 6:51 pm
- 2 Replies
- 144 Views
- Last post by gerritvolckeryck
on Fri Mar 06, 2009 7:48 pm
- how to use densitometric measurement to improve contrast ?
by wahaha on Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:54 am
- 0 Replies
- 68 Views
- Last post by wahaha
on Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:54 am
- Master AFIS List
by Bill on Tue Feb 10, 2009 8:00 pm
- 10 Replies
- 525 Views
- Last post by Alan C
on Wed Mar 04, 2009 6:47 pm
- Falsifiability as a component of ACE-V
by Boyd Baumgartner on Wed Mar 04, 2009 3:53 pm
- 1 Replies
- 121 Views
- Last post by Amy Hart
on Wed Mar 04, 2009 6:26 pm
- Lynn Peavey's DustBustr Fingerprint Powder Cup
by moorel on Wed Dec 24, 2008 5:15 pm
- 3 Replies
- 556 Views
- Last post by JDSinSC
on Wed Mar 04, 2009 5:22 am
- NAS Report & ACE-V
by izatso on Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:33 pm
- 46 Replies
- 1670 Views
- Last post by izatso
on Wed Mar 04, 2009 1:08 am
- Tribunal for McKie print expert
by charlton97 on Thu Sep 11, 2008 6:00 am
- 91 Replies
- 5521 Views
- Last post by Big Wullie
on Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:03 pm
IAI Conference Topics -
Tampa Bay, Florida - 2009:
Moderator: Steve Everist
No new posts
Documentation issues as they apply to latent prints
Moderator: Charles Parker
No new posts
Historical topics related to latent print examination
Moderator: Charles Parker
No new posts
Updated the Detail Archives
We looked at the
results of a new study by Dr. Dror, Fraser-Mackenzie, and David Charlton
regarding cognitive aspects of latent print examination.
we look at the reports of several organizations,
the IAI, SWGFAST, and the Crime Lab Report, regarding the NAS report on
NAS Memo to IAI Members
February 19, 2009
Yesterday the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released the
long-awaited report of the Committee titled Identifying the Needs of
the Forensic Science Community. That report contains numerous items
of interest to members of the International Association for
Identification (IAI). There has not been adequate time to fully
evaluate the entire 254 page report but based on preliminary
reviews, below are some points that might be considered if members
are queried regarding the report:
• The Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations (CFSO) (website:
www.thecfso.org) of which the IAI is a member was largely
responsible for convincing Congress of the need for this committee.
We thank Congress and the National Academies for their hard work
over the past several years to produce this report and call
attention to the needs of the nation’s forensic community.
• The IAI has over the years supported the need for this kind of
study. During the course of the NAS hearings the IAI was invited to
present its positions concerning these issues. [http://theiai.org/current_affairs/nas_20070919.pdf]
With the release of this report, the IAI stands ready to support
many of the committee’s recommendations and work with the necessary
parties to achieve those goals.
• The IAI endorses continuing research in pattern evidence to
include fingerprint evidence. In fact that was recognized in the
final paragraph of the IAI’s Standardization Committee’s report in
1973 that called for additional research to be conducted to provide
continuing scientific support to fingerprint identification
• Over the years a number of research projects have been conducted.
None of those projects refuted the scientific principle that
fingerprints are unique and permanent.
• There is no research to suggest that properly trained and
professionally guided examiners cannot reliably identify whole or
partial fingerprint impressions to the person from whom they
• The IAI endorses accreditation of forensic service providers as
well as certification of examiners in their respective disciplines.
To that end the IAI put in place its first certification program 32
years ago and to date has added certification programs in six
• Members who may have to testify about friction ridge
identifications are reminded that the admissibility of their
testimony rests with the presiding judge. Challenges to the
underlying science and practice are handled in Daubert/Frye type
hearings and should not affect direct testimony in the trial proper.
• It is suggested that members not assert 100% infallibility (zero
error rate) when addressing the reliability of fingerprint
Visit us on the Web at TheIAI.org
• Although the IAI does not, at this time, endorse the use of
probabilistic models when stating conclusions of identification,
members are advised to avoid stating their conclusions in absolute
terms when dealing with population issues.
• The IAI will be asking its science and practice committees to
review the NAS report over the next few weeks and will provide the
membership with additional guidance in the future.
• The Executive Summary of the report is available at: www.nas.edu
at no cost. The entire report is available from the same website at
a cost of $33.00.
In regards to the NAS Committee Report
February 27, 2009
SWGFAST considers the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee
on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community to be a
significant initiative. With much anticipation, the Committee’s
report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path
Forward”, was released to the public on February 18, 2009.
For all individuals engaged at any level in the forensic science
profession, the NAS report should be regarded as essential reading.
SWGFAST will be evaluating the substance of the report and the
supporting information cited within it at its next meeting, May 4-8,
2009. A distinguished member of the NAS Committee has accepted
SWGFAST’s invitation to attend the May meeting. SWGFAST will be
discussing the report with the Committee member and obtaining a
better understanding of the underlying thoughts that went into the
report. At the conclusion of its May, 2008 meeting, SWGFAST will
publish a statement to the community about the report and SWGFAST’s
plans to address the recommendations in it regarding the friction
SWGFAST suggests friction ridge examiners maintain a perspective of
the intent of the NAS Committee’s work, and ultimately how the
findings that it presented will benefit the forensic science
profession and society as a whole.
Leonard Butt, Chair
Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge
Analysis, Study and Technology
Crime Lab Report
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES REPORT
Legacy of historic document depends on good-faith collaboration
March 4, 2009
A historic report titled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the
United States – A Path Forward” was released on February 18, 2009 by
a special committee convened by the National Academy of Sciences
(NAS) in Washington, D.C. to examine the forensic sciences and
identify needs that must be satisfied in order to maximize their
value and reliability.
Although the report made several recommendations, its underlying
theme was the need for a national commitment to support the forensic
sciences and build a more impressive body of research.
Disappointingly, the public briefing that was held to announce the
report had yet to conclude when the Los Angeles Times released a
distorted and somewhat myopic assessment of the recommendations
reported by the NAS committee. Other newspapers followed suit as
they painted a picture of a chaotic and discombobulated forensic
science community seemingly mired in its own incompetence.
According to Los Angeles Times reporter Jason Felch, “For decades,
forensic scientists have made sweeping claims in court about
fingerprints, ballistics, handwriting, bite marks, shoe prints and
blood spatters that lack empirical grounding and have never been
verified by science.”
The Chicago Tribune ran a similar story on February 19th accompanied
by a photograph of an exonerated prisoner named Robert Stinson who
was convicted, in part, on bitemark evidence. The Tribune boasted
that the NAS report validated a series of articles it published in
2004, which the Tribune says identified “a number of forensic
disciplines, including some used in police stations and courtrooms
every day, [that] relied on flawed science, and their use
contributed to the arrests and convictions of innocent people.”
We are certain that the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune
have no idea what the NAS report really means, nor have they
demonstrated the ability or willingness to decipher the many nuances
that lie within it.
Crime Lab Report resisted the temptation to act quickly on the
release of the report – opting to let the dust settle before digging
deeply into its 255 pages of observations and recommendations. To
our surprise, what we discovered was a report that was considerably
sympathetic to the plight of many forensic practitioners and their
The report, however, is not the first attempt to characterize and
quantify the needs of the forensic science community. In February
1999 a report was issued to the United States Congress by the
National Institute of Justice which called for many of the same
improvements identified by the National Academies – including a
national Forensic Science Commission “to identify issues and needs
of particular disciplines and provide national leadership to improve
the practice of forensic science.” Forensic science leaders were
heavily involved in the study and have remained consistent in their
message ever since:
We need resources to meet skyrocketing demand and rising
expectations. In the absence of those resources, please be fair and
reasonable in what you expect of us.
The following two excerpts from the recent NAS report captured this
sentiment quite accurately:
“For decades, the forensic science disciplines have produced
valuable evidence that has contributed to the successful prosecution
and conviction of criminals as well as to the exoneration of
innocent people. Over the last two decades, advances in some
forensic science disciplines, especially the use of DNA technology,
have demonstrated that some areas of forensic science have great
additional potential to help law enforcement identify criminals.
Many crimes that may have gone unsolved are now being solved because
forensic science is helping to identify the perpetrators.”
“There are scores of talented and dedicated people in the forensic
science community, and the work that they perform is vitally
important. They are often strapped in their work, however, for lack
of adequate resources, sound policies, and national support. It is
clear that change and advancements, both systemic and scientific,
are needed in a number of forensic science disciplines—to ensure the
reliability of the disciplines, establish enforceable standards, and
promote best practices and their consistent application.”
We would politely argue that there are thousands of talented and
dedicated people in the forensic science community, but the intent
of the language is not misunderstood.
Reasonable people can disagree over the report’s recommendations and
the representation on the committee that prepared it. It is simply
impossible for a report of this magnitude to please all of its
readers all of the time. Everyone’s view will be shaped by his or
her own professional experiences and expectations. Crime Lab Report
is no exception.
But as we suggested earlier, the true spirit and practicality of the
report lies in a few critical nuances that have yet to be captured
in the predominant media coverage. Therefore, Crime Lab Report will
address these points for the benefit of journalists, scientists,
lawyers, researchers, laypersons, and others who have a sincere
desire to understand the National Academy of Sciences’ assessment of
the forensic sciences.
First, the most profound and promising aspect of the NAS report was
its refusal to affirmatively deny the reliability of many forensic
disciplines that have come under the fire of critics around the
country. The report makes no claim that disciplines such as firearm
identification, toolmark identification, latent print
identification, and forensic odontology (bitemark comparisons), to
name a few, are invalid or incapable of producing consistently
In fact, the report openly acknowledges that these disciplines may
very well have significant scientific underpinnings. In its
discussion of latent fingerprints for example, the report explains
that historically, “friction ridge analysis has served as a valuable
tool, both to identify the guilty and to exclude the innocent.
Because of the amount of detail available in friction ridges, it
seems plausible that a careful comparison of two impressions can
accurately discern whether or not they had a common source.”
Similarly, in its assessment of firearm and toolmark identification
(commonly referred to as ballistics), the committee agreed that
“class characteristics are helpful in narrowing the pool of tools
that may have left a distinctive mark. Individual patterns from
manufacture or from wear might, in some cases, be distinctive enough
to suggest one particular source, but additional studies should be
performed to make the process of individualization more precise and
In other words, the committee remains undecided on issues pertaining
to scientific validity because many forensic sciences have yet to
present an underlying body of empirical data and literature that
conform to today’s standards for conducting and documenting
John Collins, Crime Lab Report’s Chief Managing Editor and the
director of an internationally accredited forensic science
laboratory in the Midwest, testified before the NAS committee in
June 2007. He argues that the report is a reason for optimism if it
is kept in perspective.
“The National Academies aren’t saying that the engines driving
forensic science are pushing in the wrong direction. They are simply
recommending more horsepower. Much of the research they call for
will further add to the validity of the most commonly practiced
Collins’ point is underscored by the fact that the NAS report did
not reprimand the forensic science community for any shortfalls that
may exist in the accessibility or completeness of the available
research. Instead, the committee seemed to understand and appreciate
the unique history of the forensic sciences and how that history
shaped research that was performed many decades ago.
Like so many other legitimate fields of study, most forensic
sciences did not grow up in the kind of academic environment that we
know today. By necessity, they were incubated under the protective
watch of the law enforcement community and the armed forces mainly
because there were no incentives for other institutions or
professions to nurture them on a large scale.
Police departments and army bases are certainly not bastions of
scientific research and have never claimed to be. But it was the
police and military that needed the capacity to scientifically
detect crime, identify perpetrators, and exonerate the innocent. So
they did what they had to do to make it work – often with the help
of noteworthy scientific pioneers at universities around the world.
In 2005, a major study was published by the American Society of
Crime Laboratory Directors which addressed the growing need for
research in the forensic sciences. According the report, “work in
the forensic sciences does not receive the type or level of funding
that basic research receives. Few forensic laboratories (20%) have
resources dedicated to research and, historically, research is
performed at universities. Practitioner partnerships are needed for
these research programs.”
Any portrayal of the forensic science community as acting in
defiance of modern scientific expectations or intentionally avoiding
rigorous scrutiny is false and irresponsible.
The real story, unfortunately, may not help the Los Angeles Times
and Chicago Tribune sell newspapers. Be we hope citizens are
afforded the opportunity to understand these issues before any
serious public policy changes are enacted.
All reputable and qualified forensic practitioners derive most of
their confidence from training and experience. And in most
instances, a large body of accumulated knowledge exists to support
their work. As a result, they can provide a service that allows
triers of fact to make more informed choices about the guilt or
innocence of defendants in our justice system.
Even though research exists in many embattled forensic disciplines,
much of it lacks the completeness and statistical underwriting that
are necessary for objective researchers to independently evaluate
these sciences and arrive at a consensus on their validity. Whether
right or wrong, universities and other independent research bodies
of similar standing are expected to put their stamp of approval on
critical scientific practices – usually by undertaking large studies
that can establish valid quantitative expressions about the
reliability and uncertainty of certain methods.
Future studies will likely begin from scratch so that all commonly
practiced forensic sciences will eventually have the necessary
Crime Lab Report will be watching to make sure that the input and
expertise of reputable and active forensic practitioners weigh
heavily on the research that occurs from this point forward. To
isolate these men and women from the efforts to make lasting
progress in the forensic sciences would entirely defy the NAS
report’s intent to inspire collaboration and communication among a
variety of scientific professionals.
Ballistics and fingerprint studies performed by law professors and
economists will be the first clue that something has gone terribly
This leads us into another critical point raised by the NAS
committee regarding the capacity of our justice system and its
officers to objectively elicit scientific facts.
For years forensic scientists have gathered around dessert tables at
professional conferences and voiced their displeasure about the
procedural constraints that seem to inhibit scientists from freely
discussing the implications of their scientific results during a
trial or other legal proceeding. Most expert witnesses, at some
point in their careers, experience the frustration of being
admonished by a judge or lawyer for volunteering information that
exceeds the scope of the question asked.
In very clear language, the NAS committee gave credence to these
frustrations when they opined that the “adversarial process relating
to the admission and exclusion of scientific evidence is not suited
to the task of finding ‘scientific truth.’”
We agree wholeheartedly with this assessment but we also believe it
applies to adversarial clashes occurring outside the courtroom. Many
dangerous misperceptions about forensic science have been propagated
by lawyers and professors who are intent on bringing forensic
science to its knees by whatever means possible. This has created an
equally unsuitable environment for finding scientific truth.
For this reason, we wish the NAS committee would have cautioned its
readers to be wary of the potential dangers and distractions
presented by ideologues who hope to influence the funding and
staffing of the many research projects that will take place in the
Forensic science leaders must focus on the establishment of new
partnerships with honest and collaborative researchers in academia –
and there are many of them. As these partnerships take hold,
misguided activists will lose relevance and credibility.
Dr. Roger Kahn, former president of the American Society of Crime
Laboratory Directors and a practicing DNA expert in Texas noted that
there is a precedent for this ability of science to transcend
ideology. According to Kahn, “this clearly happened with DNA after
the second report by the National Research Council on DNA testing.
It led to important research and publications that resolved a
variety of statistical questions in a rigorous manner. In doing so
it strengthened the underpinnings of forensic DNA.”
Until that time, a rather uncomplimentary image of DNA was being
painted by many of the same individuals who now hold DNA up as proof
that other forensic disciplines are substandard.
This transcendence will likely begin as forensic science leaders
identify and partner with collaborators and researchers in the
academic community. Eventually, critical commentators having a
limited perspective on the realities of the forensic sciences will
disqualify themselves from serious consideration and be less able to
hinder the scientific progress that can be made in the coming years.
Just before the release of the NAS report, the Consortium of
Forensic Science Organizations (CFSO) took the first steps towards
this objective by inviting a variety of stakeholders to a roundtable
discussion in Washington, D.C. According to the CFSO, invitees
included defense attorneys, prosecutors, police officials, judges,
and civil rights advocates. No other gesture could have more
appropriately reflected the goodwill and optimism that exists in the
forensic science community to do right by our justice system. No
other act of leadership could have been more effective.
When given the choice to float a few superficial sound bites to a
reporter or engage in a meaningful discussion, forensic science
leaders will probably start looking for a comfortable conference
room. That’s exactly what the CFSO did.
The potential for positive outcomes in the wake of the NAS report
are limitless, but the committee’s recommendation to form a National
Institute of Forensic Science is one that is fraught with as many
threats as there are opportunities. Crime Lab Report believes that
vigilance and strong leadership will be needed to prevent forensic
science from becoming as slow, political, and bureaucratic as our
federal government and many of our universities.
In our experience, these kinds of environments can erode the culture
needed to operate a responsive and reputable forensic science
laboratory. Any suppression or discouragement of ingenuity,
productivity, critical thinking, and ethical centeredness will bring
harm to the forensic sciences and weaken the foundations of our
justice system. Yet it is difficult for any external agency to
regulate another organization’s culture and internal management
In some ways, the FBI’s misidentification of a latent print in the
Brandon Mayfield case served as the most painful example of how a
large bureaucratic culture can become compromised by its own
Admittedly, the authors of the NAS report took a different view when
they remarked that the Mayfield case “and the resulting report from
the Inspector General surely signal caution against simple, and
unverified, assumptions about the reliability of fingerprint
In our opinion, the lessons learned from the Mayfield case have
little to do with the validity of fingerprint evidence. Even the
report explains that the FBI investigation “determined that once the
fingerprint examiner had declared a match, both he and other
examiners who were aware of this finding were influenced by the
urgency of the investigation to affirm repeatedly this erroneous
This is evidence of a cultural problem, not a scientific one.
We suspect that in recent years the FBI has suffered an
organizational shock with the unimaginable pressures placed on its
employees to rapidly support the homeland security efforts of our
federal and state governments. Only the very best leadership
practices galvanized by a strong scientific philosophy could ever
inoculate scientists from these pressures – and even that might not
The FBI is to be commended for much of the work that was done to
remedy the problems revealed in the Mayfield case. But others who
quickly discounted the criticality of organizational stability in
providing good science were relegated to settling on bad science as
an explanation for what happened. This was a gross misdiagnosis of a
dangerous disease that gave rise to some horrific symptoms.
The recommended National Institute of Forensic Science could easily
follow the same path. As we have witnessed in recent years with only
a minimal influx of funding for the forensic sciences, whenever
money and influence are at stake, political maneuvering becomes
rampant and clear solutions are sometimes obscured.
The stockpile of history is packed with failed attempts by our
federal government to remedy perceived social problems. We believe
these failures often occur because individuals involved in the
process are not really interested in the reforms that they were
hired or appointed to bring about. Instead, they seek personal
influence or cater to special interests that are not necessarily
healthy or honorable.
Just last week, many crime laboratory directors received their
printed copy of a Department of Justice survey of publicly funded
crime laboratories that was performed back in 2005 – four years ago.
This is not the kind of efficiency and responsiveness that should be
recommended to support and strengthen forensic science.
Readers of the NAS report will notice how much it demands that
scientific opinions be underwritten by complete and proper research.
But we wonder what research supports the argument that a new
government agency is an appropriate way to govern and support the
forensic sciences. In our judgment, the evidence shows that
accreditation and certification have demonstrated themselves to be
reliable mechanisms for providing the professional governance and
oversight that are needed to ensure that the profession of forensic
science continues to advance.
If a National Institute of Forensic Science is created, however, we
sincerely hope it is able to achieve the same levels of
effectiveness and scholarship as the National Academy of Sciences.
But as is always the case, it will require the involvement of people
who hold themselves to the highest levels of professionalism and
integrity – yes, the same professionalism and integrity that courts
now demand of forensic scientists each and every day.
In the end, there is nothing that the National Academy of Sciences
can recommend to make human beings perfect. But it can inspire
forensic scientists and researchers to strive for a level of
excellence that perhaps was never contemplated before. What a
wonderful thing this would be.
Standing in the way of these efforts, unfortunately, will be the
brand of politics that has found its way into the world of forensic
science. The scope of this phenomenon will only magnify as larger
sums of money begin flowing in as recommended by the NAS committee.
Universities tapped to undertake new research projects in support of
the forensic sciences, for example, will enjoy potential windfalls
of funding and notoriety as a result of their work. This introduces
an inherent bias that rarely gets talked about. But like all biases,
they are only a problem when they adversely impact professional
judgments and prevent independent thinking.
While political dynamics may be frustrating for many forensic
science leaders and practitioners who are fighting just to manage
their incoming caseloads, it is a small price to pay for being given
access to tax-payers’ hard-earned dollars.
Even if every NAS recommendation is adopted, nothing can change the
constitutional requirement that judges and lawyers protect innocent
defendants from injustice. Not even the most rigorous and
well-controlled research will stop opposing counselors from
challenging forensic evidence and scrutinizing the credentials of
scientists – nor should it.
Furthermore, disagreements among researchers will always occur over
interpretations and results. As one university completes its
research on a particular forensic practice, there will be another
university waiting to find flaws with the work so that funding might
be allocated to support an alternative methodology. This is how
There will also be irresponsible reporters and activists who
continue to misunderstand and mischaracterize the forensic sciences;
therefore, they will portray rare and isolated instances of failure
as being pervasive problems necessitating the adoption of specific
reforms. This is how activism works.
Whatever happens from this point forward, resources allocated to the
forensic science community must be commensurate with the demand for
its services. And as the NAS report rightly recommends,
accreditation and professional certification can be made mandatory
to ensure the external and independent oversight of forensic
As we pointed out in a recent editorial, forensic science has
probably been a leading preventer of wrongful convictions over the
last twenty years. But there was little incentive or funding to
attract researchers willing to help the profession vault itself to
the next level. And quite frankly, some forensic practitioners were
not necessarily warm to the idea of outsiders playing in their
sandbox. For sure, these days have passed and hopefully everyone
will focus on the work that needs to be done and the resources that
need to be allocated.
In our opinion, The National Academy of Sciences report on forensic
science is not perfect. But it is good enough to usher in a bright
new day for all of the forensic sciences if it is acted upon
Only time – and good-faith collaboration – will tell.
by Crime Lab Report
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