Unvalidated forensic sciences
The scientific community has recently called into question the previously-thought infallibility of the forensic sciences. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences published a report discussing 'sciences' that have no empirical validity at all. Examples include:
Hair analysis: Tests have repeatedly shown that comparison of hairs under a microscope cannot accurately match a hair to a person. Yet this type of 'science' has been used in the courtroom to convict defendants.
Odontology: Like the analysis of hair, it was once believed that an examination of bite marks could be used to match the mark to a perpetrator. However, recent testing has shown that the results achieved on these tests have a low degree of accuracy.
Arson Science: A chief aim of arson investigation is to determine whether an accelerant was used to light the fire, as that can be considered intentional human action. Investigators claimed that various indicators were signs of accelerant, such as 'pour patterns', crazed glass, certain char patters, and alligatoring of wood. However, empirical experiments have shown that these supposed indicators commonly occur even when no accelerant is present. The National Fire Protection Association's guide, which dispells these myths, is now the authoritative source on proper fire investigations.
Misconduct in the Laboratory
Even those sciences which are proven to be accurate can return false reports as a result of accident or misconduct by laboratory scientists. Scientists have falsified test results when they had not actually performed the tests. Forensic analysts have given misleading testimony which created the impression that the results of test were much more significant than they actually were. The vast majority of scientists are hardworking, ethical, and responsible. They use the best scientific techniques available to deliver objective, solid information – regardless of whether the science favors the defendant, supports the prosecution or is inconclusive.However, poor training, inadequate resources, and personal bias have contributed to wrongful convictions which take years to rectify.
For a real life example of this phenomenon, please read the story of Dennis Fritz.
Giving labs the tools to succeed
Currently, the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program, a federal program, provides critical funding for state and local crime labs and other forensic facilities on the condition that grant recipients have proper oversight mechanisms in place to handle allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. MIP supports this program and continues to advocate for other reforms, such as independent oversight of labs, and the creation and enforcement of standards.