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Forensics Data Collection

February 15, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 7

In Stu Borman’s story “Heated Dispute over Analytical Method” regarding the use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (C&EN, Oct. 26, 2015, page 25), he quotes Stephen Barnes, director of the Targeted Metabolomics & Proteomics Laboratory at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, as saying, “It seems like one could defend guilty people on the basis that prosecutors have no way of knowing whether the data are valid. The forensic science community needs to develop a more rigorous understanding of the pitfalls of analysis.” Because Borman’s story focuses on GC-MS analysis of small molecules, I assume Barnes is referring to the analysis of drugs and drug metabolites. If so, his statement is in direct conflict with the findings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The forensic science community has been under intense scrutiny the past few years, and many agencies provide their methodologies online. These methods are available for the public and scientific ­community to offer comment. The methods have been scrutinized and approved by scientists who are recognized as experts and who sit on laboratory advisory boards.

Barnes’s statement is also in conflict with the 2009 report from NAS titled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.” Page 134 of the report states, “The analysis of controlled substances is a mature forensic science discipline and one of the areas with a strong scientific underpinning. The analytical methods used have been adopted from classical analytical chemistry, and there is broad agreement nationwide about best practices.”

Richard Waggoner Jr.
Cary, N.C.



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