Portable spectrometers’ implications for court cases
As a defense lawyer in Toronto, I read with interest “Portable Spectrometers Give On-Site Testing a Boost,” by Carolyn Wilke (C&EN, April 17/24, 2023, page 28). These new, often handheld, devices may well be better than the more traditional color tests or wet-chemistry kits. But the article doesn’t go into detail about the important distinction between these valuable law enforcement investigative tools and eventual proof in court to convince a judge for the criminal law requirement of beyond a reasonable doubt.
And it would appear that neither these new devices nor the color tests measure quantity, which may be important for eventual court determination of guilt and sentencing.
In Canadian law, there is another, more problematic concern, for which these new devices would not help. It is apparent government policy and practice to not reveal the science behind drug determinations. There is no proper scientific report. For years, qualitative disclosure has effectively been prevented with Controlled Drugs and Substances Act s. 51. More recently, disclosure of the science behind quantitative measurements has simply been declined by Crown counsel.
This is a matter of both science policy and justice:
▸ Unexplained science is bad science—for that reason alone.
▸ Nondisclosure by the Canadian federal government strikes at the heart of the concepts of justice. This is perhaps especially important for police stings wherein the target may be an individual with addiction or other disadvantages trading in small quantities of drug—in serious jeopardy for significant jail time.
Perhaps of greatest concern is that hardly any of the personnel of the Canadian legal system would seem to be concerned with these problems of science policy and justice. Or concerned that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act s. 51 remains as law. And perhaps the coming availability of the new devices would falsely allay that there are serious problems of scientific and legal principle.
When I read in your editorial in the April 10 issue about the decline in American Chemical Society industry memberships (page 2), a possible explanation was given in the same place. “As a businessperson, Rothrock doesn’t get as much out of ACS meetings as she once did.”
I work in industrial R&D and attended the ACS Spring meeting in Indianapolis. It is very obvious that these meetings are heavily focused on academics. Companies send representatives to many other more industry-focused conferences and trade shows and don’t see the value of an academia-heavy additional conference. But in industrial conferences, companies don’t share details of the chemistry they are doing with others—obviously. And this is exactly the advantage of ACS meetings: most chemistry is openly shared and discussed. I saw this as a great opportunity to get ideas and inspiration for my work projects in industry, even though we are actually working on entirely different things than what was shown at the ACS meeting. However, you know what you work on and check out related chemistry shown in talks and posters. Students and professors happily discuss their work with you. And the combined costs of ACS membership and conference registration are far less than the fees typically paid at many industrial conferences.
It may depend on what you do in industry. But companies should realize that attending ACS meetings and being a member can add a lot of value to them as well.
Pine Brook, New Jersey
Slogan for ACS
After reading Donna Peterson’s letter in the May 1 issue of C&EN (page 3), I propose that all readers of this quality publication help further craft an American Chemical Society slogan that might catch public attention. My suggestions would be “Chemistry for better living on a better planet!” or “Better living on a better planet through chemistry!”
Thomas Andrew Runge