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Forensic science infallibility increasingly questioned

It is unsurprising that legions of Americans all across the country put high credibility on what they regard as the near-magic qualities of forensics science. After all, the processes and findings in that realm have been repeatedly blessed in CSI and related television dramas and movies for decades. Lab technicians working purposefully in sterilized labs with next-generation equipment and technologies simply do not err.

Or do they?

High numbers of critics just as well educated and trained in the field as real lab specialists know that forensics-linked errors don't just occasionally occur in labs. In fact, they are endemic and too often yield gross inaccuracies and tragically adverse consequences.

The respected Innocence Project knows all about that. The organization readily points to many hundreds of wrongfully convicted inmates who were ultimately exonerated following proof that the forensics evidence that sent them to prison was flawed. Fingerprint, hair and bite-mark analysis has been often called into question. Even blood-linked DNA evidence itself has been proved wrong multiple times.

Updated guidelines recently issued by the U.S. Department of Justice seek to promote greater accuracy in forensics labs at federal facilities.

Critics respond to that move with a faint hand clap, noting simultaneously that new standards don't apply to state labs, where most forensics work occurs. One forensics researcher/commentator says that state lab principals should be asking, "Why weren't we asked to come to dance?"

An additionally leveled criticism is that, while the new standards rightly stress greater consistency in language and reporting protocols, they don't put enough emphasis on the hard-core science itself.

Many researchers and other closely interested parties want to see more federal funds devoted to fundamental research, with greater participation from a larger pool of independent scientists.

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