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The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences

59 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2011 Last revised: 17 May 2014

Jennifer Mnookin

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Simon A. Cole

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Itiel Dror

University College London (UCL)

Barry A. J. Fisher

Independent

Max Houk

West Virginia University - College of Business & Economics

Keith Inman

California State University, East Bay

David H. Kaye

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Jonathan J. Koehler

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law

Glenn Langenburg

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

D. Michael Risinger

Seton Hall University School of Law

Norah Rudin

Independent

Jay Siegel

Indiana University; Purdue University

David A. Stoney

Stoney Forensic, Inc.

Date Written: January 12, 2011

Abstract

The methods, techniques, and reliability of the forensic sciences in general, and the pattern identification disciplines in particular, have faced significant scrutiny in recent years. Critics have attacked the scientific basis for the assumptions and claims made by forensic scientists both in and out of the courtroom. Defenders have emphasized courts’ long-standing acceptance of forensic science evidence, the relative dearth of known errors, and the skill and experience of practitioners. This Article reflects an effort made by a diverse group of participants in these debates, including law professors, academics from several disciplines, and practicing forensic scientists, to find and explore common ground. To what extent do the forensic sciences need to change in order to place themselves on an appropriately secure foundation in the 21st century? We all firmly agree that the traditional forensic sciences in general, and the pattern identification disciplines, such as fingerprint, firearm, tool mark and handwriting identification evidence in particular, do not currently possess – and absolutely must develop – a well-established scientific foundation. This can only be accomplished through the development of a research culture that permeates the entire field of forensic science. A research culture, we argue, must be grounded in the values of empiricism, transparency, and a commitment to an ongoing critical perspective. The forensic science disciplines need to substantially increase their commitment to evidence from empirical research as the basis for their conclusions. Sound research, rather than experience, training, and longstanding use, must become the central method by which assertions are justified. In this Article, we describe the underdeveloped research culture in the non-DNA forensic sciences, offer suggestions for how it might be improved, and explain why it matters.

Keywords: Forensic Science, Research Culture

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Mnookin, Jennifer and Cole, Simon A. and Dror, Itiel and Fisher, Barry A. J. and Houk, Max and Inman, Keith and Kaye, David H. and Koehler, Jonathan J. and Langenburg, Glenn and Risinger, D. Michael and Rudin, Norah and Siegel, Jay and Stoney, David A., The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences (January 12, 2011). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 11-20; The Pennsylvania State University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 5-2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1755722 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1755722

Jennifer Mnookin (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

Simon Cole

University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society ( email )

2340 Social Ecology 2, RM
Irvine, CA 92697
949-824-1443 (Phone)
949-824-3001 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.seweb.uci.edu/faculty/cole/

Itiel Dror

University College London (UCL) ( email )

35 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9EZ, WC1H 9EZ
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucjtidr/

Barry Fisher

Independent

Max Houk

West Virginia University - College of Business & Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 6025
Morgantown, WV 26506
United States

Keith Inman

California State University, East Bay ( email )

25800 Carlos Bee Boulevard
Hayward, CA California 94542
United States

David Kaye

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

Jonathan Koehler

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Glenn Langenburg

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension ( email )

1430 Maryland Avenue East
St. Paul, MN 55106
United States

D. Risinger

Seton Hall University School of Law ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States
(973) 642-8834 (Phone)

Norah Rudin

Independent

Jay Siegel

Indiana University ( email )

107 S Indiana Ave
100 South Woodlawn
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Purdue University

610 Purdue Mall
West Lafayette, IN 47907
United States

David Stoney

Stoney Forensic, Inc.

14101G Willard Road
Chantilly, VA 20151
United States

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