Who Speaks for Science? A Response to the National Academy of Sciences Report on Forensic Science
Posted: 22 Mar 2010
Date Written: April 2010
This response focuses on the treatment of latent print identification by the recent National Academy of Science (NAS) Report on forensic science. It begins by situating the Report in the historical context of a decade of controversy over the validity of latent print identification. Stark disagreement between the academic and judicial communities over this issue created a situation in which the question of which of these two communities would ‘speak for science’ became contested. The Report's support of the academic position demonstrated the lack of support among non-practitioners for the claims of extreme discrimination and accuracy advanced on behalf of latent prints. The Report in some sense constitutes the response of institutionalized science to this issue. Nonetheless, it is still unclear whether the Report will function, as some may have hoped, as a ‘court of last resort’ on this issue or whether the courts themselves will again arbitrate it. The response then turns to the issue of how latent print conclusions can be reported in the wake of the NAS Report. The Report expresses clear disapproval of the reporting framework currently mandated by latent print professional organizations, creating a tension around the reporting of analyses. The response concludes that semantic resolutions to this tension are undesirable compared to resolutions based on empirical data.
Keywords: National Academy of Science, forensic science, fingerprint, expert witnesses, general acceptance
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