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Analytical Chemistry

Presidential advisers call for better science in the courtroom

by Andrea Widener
September 26, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 38

Extensive research is needed to improve the validity and reliability of the forensic science widely used in courtrooms, according to a new report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST). DNA, fingerprints, bitemarks, and firearms analysis are just a few of the many forensic disciplines that need standards for determining what evidence is valid and that the underlying scientific methods can reliably match a perpetrator to a crime, the report says. PCAST’s report was prompted by many cases of wrongful convictions based on bad forensic evidence, as well as a 2009 National Academy of Sciences analysis that showed there was little science underlying forensic science analyses. The council calls on the National Institute of Standards & Technology to perform more research into forensic technologies and set standards in areas that now rely on human judgment rather than research. The Attorney General should ensure that its witnesses’ testimony meets standards of scientific validity and put forward guidelines for expert testimony, the report suggests. The White House should also create a forensic science R&D strategy, it says.

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