1. Many aspects presented in the Frontline news piece documentary The Real CSI were new and shocking in that they did not fit my preconceptions of the field of forensic science. For example, the documentary shows the widespread use of forensics in courts and criminal investigations despite the lack of scientific testing on its reliability and validity. Likewise, certifications in forensics and for investigators are not regulated and available online, further discrediting it as a science. The problem with all of this is that mainstream television is flooded with criminal investigation dramas that give people the idea that these methods are reliable. The documentary reveals many myths and misconceptions of supposedly foolproof methods. For example, I was surprised to learn that even fingerprinting technique is not “infallible” as the FBI claims it to be and has a 100-year history of use in criminal investigation.
2. Some techniques that were discussed are: fingerprinting, bullet matching/ballistic analysis, blood spatter analysis, bite mark analysis and hair and fiber analyses. Fingerprinting examination and analysis is deductive and varies from laboratory to laboratory. The premise behind fingerprint examination is that no two prints are alike. However, the case of Brandon Mayfield destroyed that faulty premise. In the documentary’s interview with the Michigan judge, he points out that the “points of comparison” on fingerprints can vary from 7 to 16, and ultimately is based on the subjective interpretation of the examiner. These would be correlational, as the premise that each fingerprint is unique has never been tested. This was tested in cognitive bias case from the French cognitive psychologist where 4 of 5 investigators changed their decisions when the crimes involved were changed. Bite mark analysis is another technique that the documentary scrutinized. Bite mark analysis is inductive in nature and was used to convict several men unjustly. Lastly, odor analysis is another controversial forensic technique that utilizes inductive reasoning to characterize certain compounds from that are produced during human decomposition.
3. Misconceptions about forensic science have skewed the public view of the reality behind criminal investigation and have dire consequences in sentencing individuals. According to the Frontline news piece, CSI is the most watched drama in the world, giving people incredibly false ideas about the reach and potential of forensic science to positively identify criminals. This is dangerous because people view CSI as if it were real life criminal investigation. In real life, Frontline showed case after case of investigations and false convictions that were based on forensic evidence. Many people have spent time in jail for crimes they did not commit (i.e. Mississippi murder cases).
4. Two other methodologies that I would like to see examined are ballistics and blood spatter analysis. Ballistics, like fingerprinting, is based on the premise that the characteristics on a fired bullet are unique and belong to only one gun. It is true that a type of bullet belongs to a type of gun, but there are hundreds of thousands of copies of the same model of gun. A positive identification would be correlational at best. Blood spatter seems a little bit like pseudoscience. I think that some aspects of it can tell us about the crime scene, but it would be a qualitative analysis of the crime scene, and definitely should not be admissible evidence in court.
5. I believe it is essential and mandatory that people who are involved in the criminal justice system be scientifically literate because evidence that is inconclusive or that was arrived at using non-scientifically validated methods is influencing fair trials. Jurors could possible base their conviction on forensic evidence that was not scientifically obtained.