Science without Precedent: The Impact of the National Research Council Report on the Admissibility and Use of Forensic Science Evidence in the United States
British Journal of American Legal Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp. 585-617
33 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017
Date Written: December 31, 2015
This article treats the 2009 publication of a report on forensic science by the United States National Research Council (NRC or NAS report) as a watershed that illuminates the recent controversy around the forensic sciences. The NRC Report enabled a heterogeneous set of voices with a variety of perspectives and credentials, to momentarily speak univocally “for science”, through an authoritative national institution. The NRC produced a report that was surprisingly critical of both the forensic sciences and the performance of legal institutions. We might expect this temporary univocality and the directed criticism to pose challenges for law, particularly any attempt to dismiss or counter the epistemic authority of scientists and “science.” This article explores this issue by reviewing legal decisions on forensic science evidence published after the NRC report. We found that courts gave relatively little weight to “science” even when available as an official report from an authoritative institution. The article then reviews several rhetorical devices used by courts to justify their limited engagement with the NRC Report. The article concludes with some reflections on what this episode may reveal about the relationship between science and law more generally.
Keywords: forensic, admissibility, National Research Council, science
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