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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Is Forensic Science Real Science?

     The problem with much of forensic science theory is that it is largely inductive, and has never been subject to rigorous tests that specifically attempt to falsify it. It has been said that forensic scientists in general have failed to consistently appreciate the implications of the scientific method. The progression through the stages of research, formulation of a hypothesis, testing, analyzing results, and then modifying the hypothesis where necessary has the advantage of built-in evaluators, such as the calculation of error rates, as part of the process, in addition to other benefits, including impartiality. Testing allows the generation of error rates and approximations, and good quality research is generally published, thereby being subject to peer review. Standardization of techniques and theories becomes necessary so as to ensure their validity and applicability in the hands of different researchers, scientists, and practitioners. Eventually, when a theory gains overwhelming support, it may even enter the realm of "general acceptance"; however, this by itself is no substitute for these first stages of scientific endeavor.

     While academics note a tension between "science" and "forensic science," there are some who disagree that the traditional "scientific method" is appropriate for forensic science to follow, due to its unique position of straddling the disciplines of both science and law...As one author has written, forensic science operates outside the carefully controlled environment that the traditional sciences endure...Claiming that forensic science does not enjoy the pristine conditions of experimental science, and thus is not directly comparable, avoids a reality that has plagued all scientific research--a reality that has already been managed by experimental scientists through careful and deliberate hypothesis testing, but dismissed by forensic scientists by simply claiming irrelevance to their own practice. [The forensic sciences that have not undergone this rigorous scientific methodology include forensic document examination, blood spatter analysis, fingerprint identification, and human bite mark identification.]

C. Michael Bowers, Forensic Testimony, 2013 

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