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Old 04-23-2015, 03:14 PM
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FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades: Is forensic science all it's cracked up to be?


This is obviously completely unacceptable, and that's an understatement.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/...310_story.html
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The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.
...
The FBI searched more than 21,000 federal and state requests to its hair comparison unit from 1972 through 1999, identifying for review roughly 2,500 cases where examiners declared hair matches.
I can't quote more than that but I'll just add that in many of cases the hair analysis was not the only evidence, so hopefully there aren't thousands of wrongful convictions, although there are possibly a large number.

I have to wonder how many other forensic "experts" are full of crap. I seem to recall bite mark evidence being discredited. What else? Shaken baby syndrome? Arson experts? Fingerprints? Do I even need to mention so-called facilitated communications?

Do we put too much trust in "forensic science"? How much of it is really science? How much has been subjected to proper peer reviewed studies? Is it ever fabricated or just plain mistaken and, if so, how can we know?
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Old 04-23-2015, 03:30 PM
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This is obviously completely unacceptable, and that's an understatement.


Do we put too much trust in "forensic science"? How much of it is really science? How much has been subjected to proper peer reviewed studies? Is it ever fabricated or just plain mistaken and, if so, how can we know?
Forensics needs to be blind testing, and it's not. So, there's pressure on the techs to make the sample a match.
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Old 04-23-2015, 04:14 PM
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http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/t...-of-forensics/

Basically every bit of "forensic science" is hand-waving woo developed outside all scientific norms, and practiced by people who are given financial incentives to lie.

The stuff you listed is part of the junk -- the entire notion that you can inspect the charred remains of a burnt building and determine whether it was arson is garbage, as is just about any use of fingerprints. Don't forget handwriting matches, ballistic matching of bullets to guns, and bite mark analysis.

The only thing regularly used in court that I can think of with any real validity is DNA matching, and even then, it's being done by labs that work for the police and are clearly told that their continued employment depends on giving the results the police want.
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Old 04-23-2015, 11:20 PM
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And don't forget the Recovered Memory craze of the 1990's.
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Old 04-24-2015, 05:12 AM
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First, physical evidence is not used nearly as often in real life as many would think, and it doesn't really improve conviction rates:

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But does forensic evidence really matter as much as we believe? New research suggests no, arguing that we have overrated the role that it plays in the arrest and prosecution of American criminals.

A study, reviewing 400 murder cases in five jurisdictions, found that the presence of forensic evidence had very little impact on whether an arrest would be made, charges would be filed, or a conviction would be handed down in court.

A mere 13.5 percent of the murder cases reviewed actually had physical evidence that linked the suspect to the crime scene or victim. The conviction rate in those cases was only slightly higher than the rate among all other cases in the sample. And for the most part, the hard, scientific evidence celebrated by crime dramas simply did not surface. According to the research, investigators found some kind of biological evidence 38 percent of the time, latent fingerprints 28 percent of the time, and DNA in just 4.5 percent of homicides.

“Forensics had no bearing on the outcome at all,” said Ira Sommers, professor of criminal justice at California State University, Los Angeles, who coauthored the research with colleague and fellow professor Deborah Baskin. “It was not a significant predictor of the district attorney charging the case and had no relation to actually getting a conviction. That’s a pretty stunning finding considering all the hype around forensic evidence.”
Second, no one type of evidence is all it's cracked up to be, which is the reason why most trials have multiple types or pieces of evidence employed to convict a defendant. We now know things like eyewitness testimony and confessions are often unreliable as well. The point being that it's hard to solve and crime, and no piece of evidence including DNA is conclusive of guilt in a great number of circumstances. So while it's troubling that an entire branch of "science" seems to have been undermined, I am not sure we should be as troubled by this in terms of getting the wrong results.
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Old 04-24-2015, 08:36 AM
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We probably put innocent people in prison because of this, or even executed them. How many cases would there have to be to "trouble" you?
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Old 04-24-2015, 08:56 AM
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Personally, I'm troubled both by the junkification of science to railroad defendants and the fact that the American education system produced even one person who can say with a straight face "Well, he was probably guilty anyway."
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Old 04-24-2015, 08:57 AM
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It's also ironic that the person cited by our local "anyone who is arrested must be guilty" vigilante is a "professor of criminal justice." A person with no scientific training who works in a fake discipline designed to give aspiring security guards something to major in at community college thinks that the police are always right. What a surprise.
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Old 04-24-2015, 09:23 AM
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He has a doctorate in social work. I have no idea if that involves substantial scientific training but presumably it requires at least some psychology and statistics.

Last edited by Really Not All That Bright; 04-24-2015 at 09:23 AM.
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Old 04-24-2015, 09:34 AM
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The standards for responsible use of data in social science today are pretty low, and I'm guessing they were even worse in a social work program in the 1980s. He's certainly bringing enormous biases to the table when looking at the question of whether the police lie. Part of the issue, for those who have been following the WaPo's articles, is that even professional defense witnesses won't challenge the basis of garbage like hair analysis because they'd be out of a job too if they couldn't discuss the particulars of every case in court.
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Old 04-24-2015, 11:07 AM
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The only thing regularly used in court that I can think of with any real validity is DNA matching, and even then, it's being done by labs that work for the police and are clearly told that their continued employment depends on giving the results the police want.
Uh, cite?
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Old 04-24-2015, 12:37 PM
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Uh, cite?
Linked from the article I already posted...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/0...n_3837471.html
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Old 04-24-2015, 12:59 PM
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So TV lied to me again? I'm so disillusioned.
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Old 04-24-2015, 01:00 PM
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I want to debate this, but I'm too disgusted. Is there anyone who didn't believe the US had never executed an innocent person, who will now have the scales fall from their eyes?

Cops and prosecutors decide who's guilty and lean on them, and there's no science in most of this bullshit diagnosis - hair, fire patterns, bite analysis, even fingerprints.

But people who insisted the guy in Texas convicted of burning his own house and killing his children, based on bullshit 'science' was still guilty, probably believe the guy executed in Texas who was fingered by other defendants, and was convicted on a single hair that turned out not be his, was still guilty.

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Jones was convicted in the killing of a liquor-store owner during a robbery in Texas. His two conspirators testified against him, but under Texas law, accomplice testimony isn’t enough to seal a conviction. State experts presented the hair, which they said likely belonged to Jones.

Before his 2000 execution, Jones asked then-Governor George W. Bush for a stay of execution and to conduct a DNA test. Bush refused. [...] A decade later, testing finally proved that the hair—the only physical evidence in the case—never belonged to Jones.
Hey - here's a guy who was convicted on a fucking dog's hair!

I hate our complacency.
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Old 04-24-2015, 01:23 PM
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Is it too much to hope that juries will now start to see through some of this bullshit?

Yeah, it probably is too much to hope for.
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Old 04-24-2015, 02:30 PM
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We probably put innocent people in prison because of this, or even executed them. How many cases would there have to be to "trouble" you?
We certainly put innocent people to death because we have the death penalty. That in and of itself has nothing to do with this.

Did you read the article I linked to? The fact is the the use of physical evidence by and large doesn't increase conviction rates, so the idea that faulty hair comparisons alone led to these people's deaths is dubious. Doesn't make it right, but it is likely not supported by the evidence. Unless you have a cite to offer or a compelling reason to think people died because of this, I think you should rethink this.
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Old 04-24-2015, 02:35 PM
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Your position is that prosecutors should be allowed to lie in court because the defendant was probably going to be convicted anyway, and this in and of itself isn't an indictment of the justice system but merely a reflection of the fact that everyone is probably guilty of like, original sin or something.

Would you be more comfortable living in North Korea? Certainly any reasonable person would be happier with you there than possibly serving on a jury here.
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Old 04-24-2015, 03:27 PM
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Your position is that prosecutors should be allowed to lie in court because the defendant was probably going to be convicted anyway, and this in and of itself isn't an indictment of the justice system but merely a reflection of the fact that everyone is probably guilty of like, original sin or something.
If this is a response to bricbacon, you should try reading the post again.
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Old 04-24-2015, 04:04 PM
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Did you read the article I linked to? The fact is the the use of physical evidence by and large doesn't increase conviction rates, so the idea that faulty hair comparisons alone led to these people's deaths is dubious. Doesn't make it right, but it is likely not supported by the evidence. Unless you have a cite to offer or a compelling reason to think people died because of this, I think you should rethink this.
How about the one I cited upthread? Getting fingered by your criminal pals isn't enough to let Texas execute a guy, but a hair that was not his got him executed.

The Innocence Project says 9 people have been executed in these 268 cases. I'm trying to find the other 4. Would you be interested in looking? Or is it just easier to assume the hair didn't matter?

Last edited by bup; 04-24-2015 at 04:08 PM.
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Old 04-24-2015, 04:42 PM
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There is no scientific validity whatsoever to hair analysis, ballistic matching, arson investigation, bite mark matching, handwriting analysis, or fingerprint matching.

All of these techniques were developed within police and prosecution environments and not by scientists, and none of them have survived proper scientific review.

In addition to the fact that the underlying techniques are just as valid as phrenology or psychic readings, it is also the case that "crime labs" are staffed by employees of the police and prosecutor and understand that their job is to get convictions, not do honest science. In many cases, this is reinforced by an explicit policy of not paying the crime lab unless a "match" is found.

These are all true facts. Asserting that "he was probably guilty anyway" or trying to start a debate about the death penalty do not change either the above objectively true facts, nor the moral consequences of ignoring them.

Last edited by Haberdash; 04-24-2015 at 04:43 PM.
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Old 04-24-2015, 04:45 PM
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Did you read the article I linked to? The fact is the the use of physical evidence by and large doesn't increase conviction rates...
I read the article you linked to, and it says forensic evidence increases conviction rates a little bit. That alone suggests that somebody has been wrongfully convicted based on faulty forensic evidence. It's also just one study.
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Old 04-24-2015, 04:45 PM
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The point is that we don't know if any one particular piece of forensic evidence was the thing that put it over the top for one or more jurors. We should be disturbed by any invalid evidence that is presented as scientific fact in a trial.
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Old 04-24-2015, 04:51 PM
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Certainly. I'm not the one minimizing the importance of this report.
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Old 04-24-2015, 04:58 PM
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Certainly. I'm not the one minimizing the importance of this report.
I didn't think you were. I apologize if I gave that impression. I wasn't responding to you. I was responding to those who are minimizing this problem.
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Old 04-24-2015, 04:59 PM
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My mistake. Carry on.
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Old 04-24-2015, 05:13 PM
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The point is that we don't know if any one particular piece of forensic evidence was the thing that put it over the top for one or more jurors. We should be disturbed by any invalid evidence that is presented as scientific fact in a trial.
I'm willing to make inferences when hair was the only physical evidence that it was damn important in convicting some people.
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Old 04-24-2015, 05:19 PM
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I want to debate this, but I'm too disgusted. Is there anyone who didn't believe the US had never executed an innocent person, who will now have the scales fall from their eyes?

Cops and prosecutors decide who's guilty and lean on them, and there's no science in most of this bullshit diagnosis - hair, fire patterns, bite analysis, even fingerprints.

But people who insisted the guy in Texas convicted of burning his own house and killing his children, based on bullshit 'science' was still guilty, probably believe the guy executed in Texas who was fingered by other defendants, and was convicted on a single hair that turned out not be his, was still guilty...
Go read some more about Claude Jones. It didn't help his cause that he committed a bank robbery three days later with his two accomplices. Or that he had 11 prior convictions for armed robbery, assault, burglary, and murder. He burned a fellow inmate to death while in a prison in Kansas, so murdering liquor store owner Allen Hilzendager wouldn't have been something novel for Jones. The Texas Observer article itself states that either Jones or his accomplice Dixon went into the store and shot the guy. The eyewitnesses couldn't specifically ID Jones, but described a man much like him as the shooter.

Did Jones shoot Hilzendager? I think he did, even with the recanting of Jordan's (the 2nd accomplice) testimony and the DNA results that show that the hair used to tie Jones to the murder scene came from the victim. Though I think he did, I'd like to eliminate any possible doubt, and I can't with this set of facts. Was he there? I think it's reasonable to infer that he was, given his subsequent string of violent robberies with those two men, and the eyewitness testimony describing a man of his build, wearing clothing he wore that day. I believe, but am not sure, that the description given in, e.g., the 1994 Texas CCA appellate opinion, does not describe either Dixon or Jordan. (The dissenting opinion from Judge Baird is interesting reading, FWIW. It starts at Page 16 of the pdf opinion.) Since Jordan later led police to the murder weapon, a .357 Magnum bought by Jordan's girlfriend, and the weapon was ballistically matched to the bullets recovered from Hilzendager, it seems reasonable that one of those three men committed the murder.

What I can't figure out is why who shot Hilzendager---Jones or Dixon---even matters. IANAL, but I had thought Texas's law of parties, Tex. Penal Code Sec. 7.02 would apply and either Jones or Dixon could be found guilty of capital murder if both were found criminally responsible parties to the offense. Maybe the law changed since the time of the murder? Or if Jones wasn't at the scene, despite the witnesses, then of course he couldn't be criminally responsible under these facts.

In any event, I'm much more concerned about the Cameron Willingham case being a miscarriage of justice---though I've said the last time that we looked at his case here, that I don't think you can definitively say one way or the other whether he burned his kids to death---than I am that Claude Jones got the needle. Ties in criminal justice should go to the accused, and the state of Texas should not have put Willingham to death. Nor, if DNA testing had been done on the hair in the Hilzendager murder, and if that was the only corroborating non-accomplice evidence used in Jones's conviction, should Texas have put to death Claude Jones.

As to the larger question of the scientific validity of most forensic techniques, I would have thought that I'd like nothing more than to have them forced to pass a Daubert hearing. But it turns out that Daubert's rarely used successfully by a criminal defendant to exclude expert testimony in a criminal trial, according to this 2005 article by Peter Neufeld in the American Journal of Public Health. I thought it was interesting, and showed how much slop there is in public crime labs. Aside, are crime labs run in a blind manner---i.e., does a lab tech know when they are performing a procedure who the sample pertains to? And what results the prosecution would like to see? If they aren't run blind, should they be?

I don't have an answer about how you get rid of bad science being used to convict people. The vast majority of defendants don't have the money to hire their own experts, never mind the level of research you'd need to overturn a forensic science technique. What might help is coming down like Leviathan on not just bad science, but fraudulent science like the Houston Crime Lab performed again and again, instead of holding investigation after investigation, closing and re-opening the thing, and nobody going to jail.
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Old 04-24-2015, 05:42 PM
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I'm willing to make inferences when hair was the only physical evidence that it was damn important in convicting some people.
Even if it was only one of a number of pieces of physical evidence, can we say for certain that there wasn't at least one juror who wouldn't have been convinced if it weren't for that one extra piece?
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Old 04-24-2015, 06:00 PM
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I don't have an answer about how you get rid of bad science being used to convict people. The vast majority of defendants don't have the money to hire their own experts, never mind the level of research you'd need to overturn a forensic science technique. What might help is coming down like Leviathan on not just bad science, but fraudulent science like the Houston Crime Lab performed again and again, instead of holding investigation after investigation, closing and re-opening the thing, and nobody going to jail.
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found that the crime lab repeatedly incorrectly tested DNA samples, and in some cases, made up the results without actually testing the evidence. It was also discovered that serology work, the same type of forensic evidence used against George Rodriguez, was not properly performed in over four hundred cases.
Bolding mine.
Holy Flurking Schnitt!!

Gave testimony about results from tests they didn't even do. I can't even wrap my head around this.

Last edited by Typo Negative; 04-24-2015 at 06:02 PM.
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Old 04-24-2015, 06:58 PM
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Even if the science were 100% proven, when it's practiced in the real world the human factor is always present.
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Old 04-24-2015, 07:05 PM
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There is no scientific validity whatsoever to [...] fingerprint matching.
Hang on, what? We have $300 phones nowadays that can tell people apart based on fingerprints. How is fingerprint matching not valid?
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Old 04-24-2015, 07:12 PM
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Hang on, what? We have $300 phones nowadays that can tell people apart based on fingerprints. How is fingerprint matching not valid?
Your phone relies on your fingerprint being close enough to the captured image, and is electronically comparing the entire fingertip, pressed against the phone in exactly the way the phone software asks you to.

Forensic "fingerprint matching" takes real-world remnants of fingerprints and makes pronouncements about them "matching" a person based on nothing more than people taking guesses. As always, these people are not acting on any reliable science and are incentivized to find "matches." Actually knowing with any certainty that a real-world fingerprint on, say, the remnants of a bomb matches a person as opposed to some other person is essentially impossible. The history of forensic fingerprinting is the same story as the other techniques -- a method developed prior to 1910 by a police officer is taken on faith, with no actual modern scientific procedure interfering.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...2004May28.html
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Old 04-24-2015, 07:42 PM
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The problems with fingerprinting are something I find particularly disturbing.

I know that for my whole life I've assumed that fingerprints are incontrovertible evidence that someone touched a surface at some point. I think most people make that assumption.

The link posted by Haberdash gave me a forehead slapping moment. It's all obvious once it's laid out.

In fact, some of the points it lays out are things that have crossed my mind. How do we know that all prints are unique? How are prints actually compared? How can partial prints be accurate? I just assumed that the experts understood this stuff better than me and knew what they were doing! I suppose we're all prone to "common knowledge".
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Old 04-24-2015, 09:33 PM
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How much of it is really science? How much has been subjected to proper peer reviewed studies?
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Forensics needs to be blind testing, and it's not.
This is what I think is the key issue. Is forensic science being held up to regular scientific standards? Is there any body which is testing the procedures being used to see if they are producing valid results?

If not, then they might as well shut down crime labs and go with psychics. You'd get equally valid results for less money.

And then's the whole separate issue of integrity. The best testing procedure in the world is useless or worse if the people using it aren't honest.
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Old 04-24-2015, 09:56 PM
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How about the one I cited upthread? Getting fingered by your criminal pals isn't enough to let Texas execute a guy, but a hair that was not his got him executed.
That case isn't really realted to this issue at all. The prosecution erroneously claimed the hair found matched the defendants' DNA, not that it matched him based on faulty science. They seemingly just lied. Notice that actual testing exposed their lie for the record. While the whole thing is an egregious violation, it has nothing to do with what we are discussing AFAICT.

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The Innocence Project says 9 people have been executed in these 268 cases. I'm trying to find the other 4. Would you be interested in looking? Or is it just easier to assume the hair didn't matter?
Sure, I am open to being proved wrong on this point.

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I read the article you linked to, and it says forensic evidence increases conviction rates a little bit. That alone suggests that somebody has been wrongfully convicted based on faulty forensic evidence. It's also just one study.
No, it doesn't. A statistical insignificant difference is meaningless. That's why the researcher unequivocally stated: " Forensics had no bearing on the outcome at all... it was not a significant predictor of the district attorney charging the case and had no relation to actually getting a conviction."

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The point is that we don't know if any one particular piece of forensic evidence was the thing that put it over the top for one or more jurors. We should be disturbed by any invalid evidence that is presented as scientific fact in a trial.
Yes, we should. But that is very different from saying we know if had an effect, or that people have died because of this.

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Even if it was only one of a number of pieces of physical evidence, can we say for certain that there wasn't at least one juror who wouldn't have been convinced if it weren't for that one extra piece?
We can reasonably infer that similar factual cases, which differ only based on the presentation of physical evidence, having similar outcomes means that the evidence probably wasn't as demonstrative in the eyes of jurors.
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Old 04-24-2015, 10:44 PM
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That case isn't really realted to this issue at all. The prosecution erroneously claimed the hair found matched the defendants' DNA, not that it matched him based on faulty science. They seemingly just lied. Notice that actual testing exposed their lie for the record. While the whole thing is an egregious violation, it has nothing to do with what we are discussing AFAICT...
If we're discussing the Claude Jones case---the State never claimed the hair's DNA matched Jones's. The trial was in 1994; I don't think DNA comparison testing was mature yet. The witness claimed the hair was similar to Jones's, and no one else's at the crime scene, probably via comparison microscopic examination. FWIW, Judge Baird in the opinion I linked didn't think much of that evidence either. Prescient guy.
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Old 04-24-2015, 11:28 PM
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If we're discussing the Claude Jones case---the State never claimed the hair's DNA matched Jones's. The trial was in 1994; I don't think DNA comparison testing was mature yet. The witness claimed the hair was similar to Jones's, and no one else's at the crime scene, probably via comparison microscopic examination. FWIW, Judge Baird in the opinion I linked didn't think much of that evidence either. Prescient guy.
It was in reference to the Santae Tribble case linked to earlier. To quote the article:

Quote:
Tribble maintained his innocence. But no matter what he said and how much his friends vouched, two FBI forensics experts claimed that a single strand of hair recovered near the scene of the crime matched Tribble’s DNA. Thanks to that evidence, which was groundbreaking at the time, Tribble was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison after 40 minutes of jury deliberation, reported the Washington Post.
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Old 04-25-2015, 06:26 AM
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TNo, it doesn't. A statistical insignificant difference is meaningless. That's why the researcher unequivocally stated: " Forensics had no bearing on the outcome at all... it was not a significant predictor of the district attorney charging the case and had no relation to actually getting a conviction."
You have no idea what "statistical" means.
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Old 04-25-2015, 09:42 AM
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You have no idea what "statistical" means.
Where do you think I have erred in my understanding?
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Old 04-25-2015, 09:52 AM
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Whether "cases without forensic evidence" have similar conviction rates to "cases with forensic evidence" does not tell you anything whatsoever about whether the forensic evidence made the difference in the latter cases. You cannot escape the flawed design of this experiment by doing any kind of math on the data gathered under its erroneous assumption. I'm not at all surprised that a "criminal justice" professor made this basic error -- and reading the paper, it's amazing that he made no attempts to his his biases -- there are no "convictions" just "successful case outcomes." Anyone being acquitted is a "failure" because we are all guilty in the eyes of God, according to Ira Sommers and you. This is the mentality of the police, the prosecutor, and the "crime labs" staffed by ditzy grads of "criminal justice" community college programs who understand that their job is to find whatever "matches" they are told to by their bosses.
  #41  
Old 04-25-2015, 11:07 AM
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https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2.../badforensics/
  #42  
Old 04-25-2015, 11:45 AM
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Whether "cases without forensic evidence" have similar conviction rates to "cases with forensic evidence" does not tell you anything whatsoever about whether the forensic evidence made the difference in the latter cases.
It wasn't meant to make a judgment on individual cases but rather the effect of forensic evidence in trials, so your basic statement is clearly false. If randomly sampled cases have similar outcomes while only differing in the presence of forensic evidence, then you can reasonably infer that the effect of such evidence is fairly minimal in a general sense.

Your comment is completely nonsensical. This basically how studies of this sort are done. Even drug studies functions similarly in that if two cohorts are treated the same save a medication being tested, and the control group has the same outcomes as the tested group, then we would likely infer that the medication has no measurable effect. They analogue in this example to your absurd comment from the previous example would be remarking that you don't know that the medication helped nobody. While that is true, that is NOT what is being tested or inferred.

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
You cannot escape the flawed design of this experiment by doing any kind of math on the data gathered under its erroneous assumption.
It's not a flawed design.

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
I'm not at all surprised that a "criminal justice" professor made this basic error -- and reading the paper, it's amazing that he made no attempts to his his biases -- there are no "convictions" just "successful case outcomes."
This doesn't matter. The authors characterization doesn't change or affect the data. Unless you has some reason why the false positives and false negatives would be different in either group, then this has no impact. Even putting that aside, if juries really responded to physical evidence and demurred when they don't see it, you would likely see higher conviction rates in those cases.

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
Anyone being acquitted is a "failure" because we are all guilty in the eyes of God, according to Ira Sommers and you.
Explain why his characterization poisons the data or the conclusions drawn in any way? Don't just hurl childish insults. Explain WHY you think this matters?

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
This is the mentality of the police, the prosecutor, and the "crime labs" staffed by ditzy grads of "criminal justice" community college programs who understand that their job is to find whatever "matches" they are told to by their bosses.
I'm sorry. Please state your expertise that makes you more qualified to comment on this or impugn the work of trained experts? The people we are talking about by and large worked for the FBI, so I highly doubt they are ditzy community college grads even given the fact they were wrong in these cases. Please feel free to cite the studies YOU have personally done? I would have to imagine you have expertise int his field given your vehemence on the matter.
  #43  
Old 04-25-2015, 11:55 AM
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It wasn't meant to make a judgment on individual cases but rather the effect of forensic evidence in trials, so your basic statement is clearly false. If randomly sampled cases have similar outcomes while only differing in the presence of forensic evidence, then you can reasonably infer that the effect of such evidence is fairly minimal in a general sense.
A trial isn't a chemical reaction. You have no idea what you're talking about -- no attempt was made to control for judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, the fact that different charges may involve different kinds of forensics, etc. This is the problem with trying to gussy up subjective endeavors into "science" -- you get pseudoscience backed up by numbers in quantity but not quality because people don't know what science is.

Quote:
This doesn't matter. The authors characterization doesn't change or affect the data. Unless you has some reason why the false positives and false negatives would be different in either group, then this has no impact. Even putting that aside, if juries really responded to physical evidence and demurred when they don't see it, you would likely see higher conviction rates in those cases.
The author clearly has an agenda, and if he were doing actual science, there would be attempts to counter his biases, replicate his findings, peer-review his methodology, etc. Because he's a "social scientist" he gets to just write an opinion piece, include randomly picked numbers, and proclaim that it must be science because it has numbers in it.

Quote:
Explain why his characterization poisons the data or the conclusions drawn in any way? Don't just hurl childish insults. Explain WHY you think this matters?
Why does it matter that people are being sent to prison based on techniques that offer literally zero more scientific credibility than asking defendants to put their hands in a fire and prove they aren't witches? Again, the only way you could possibly not find this a problem is if you already believe everyone is guilty.

Quote:
I'm sorry. Please state your expertise that makes you more qualified to comment on this or impugn the work of trained experts?
A "trained expert" in hair analysis or arson investigation is no better than a "trained expert" in homeopathy or creationism. I'm more qualified because I don't believe in magic and they do.

Quote:
The people we are talking about by and large worked for the FBI, so I highly doubt they are ditzy community college grads even given the fact they were wrong in these cases. Please feel free to cite the studies YOU have personally done? I would have to imagine you have expertise int his field given your vehemence on the matter.
As above, I clearly understand math and science better than these people, which is not surprising, since training in "criminal justice" generally seems to attract the stupid and make them even more stupid.

Your contention is: that it doesn't matter that people are being convicted on pseudoscience, because according to one terribly designed "study" by a vested defender of the system who doesn't know what a control group is, they would have been convicted anyway. The burden is on YOU to to explain why you think the entire Anglo-American legal system should be burned down and replaced with the police sending anyone to prison that they feel like, and I have nothing further to defend until you present a case beyond "hey, this guy is a professor of minimum-wage-security-guard studies so you're not allowed to point out his idiocy!"

Last edited by Haberdash; 04-25-2015 at 11:58 AM.
  #44  
Old 04-25-2015, 12:04 PM
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Listen, while it's all well and good to point out the flaws in forensic science, you are missing two key points:

1. Most of this evidence, and the expertise of these witnesses, can be challenged in court. For example, when some dentist testifies about bite mark analysis, the defense should point out the fact that the FBI deems the science unreliable, and the ADA doesn't recognize it. Yes, "experts" can have an outsized effect on juries, but that in and of itself doesn't mean much. Whether it's hand writing analysis or tire tread matching, the lack of scientific rigor should be, and often is, a matter brought up in court in order to secure reasonable doubt.

2. Almost every piece of evidence has flaws and lacks strict scientific rigor. Do you really think fingerprint analysis is that much more susceptible to error than stranger cross-racial ID, confessions under intense questioning, police statements, or jailhouse snitches? Probably not, yet we would never, in the case of the first example, tell some rape victim that his/her ID of the assailant was inadmissible due to the lack of scientific rigor and statistical basis of ID'ing strangers of different races.

Of course that doesn't mean that experts and scientists should just make shit up. However, we need to tread very carefully in thinking that scientific rigor needs to be introduced into every piece of evidence lest it be meaningless or a judicial travesty.
  #45  
Old 04-25-2015, 12:20 PM
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A trial isn't a chemical reaction. You have no idea what you're talking about -- no attempt was made to control for judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, the fact that different charges may involve different kinds of forensics, etc.
Again, that doesn't really matter much if there is no reason to expect the two groups to differ much in those respects. It does introduce alternative conclusions, but it doesn't render the data useless. Moreover, you have done nothing to give credence to those alternatives.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
The author clearly has an agenda, and if he were doing actual science, there would be attempts to counter his biases, replicate his findings, peer-review his methodology, etc.
What agenda would that be?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
Why does it matter that people are being sent to prison based on techniques that offer literally zero more scientific credibility than asking defendants to put their hands in a fire and prove they aren't witches? Again, the only way you could possibly not find this a problem is if you already believe everyone is guilty.
Again, cite evidence people are being sent to jail based on this?

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
A "trained expert" in hair analysis or arson investigation is no better than a "trained expert" in homeopathy or creationism. I'm more qualified because I don't believe in magic and they do.
Okay, so I take it you have no expertise or experience to chastise these people.

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
As above, I clearly understand math and science better than these people...
Clearly you don't given your comments here.

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
Your contention is: that it doesn't matter that people are being convicted on pseudoscience, because according to one terribly designed "study" by a vested defender of the system who doesn't know what a control group is, they would have been convicted anyway.


Wrong. I am saying that there is no evidence, "people died" because of this screw up.


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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
The burden is on YOU to to explain why you think the entire Anglo-American legal system should be burned down and replaced with the police sending anyone to prison that they feel like, and I have nothing further to defend until you present a case beyond "hey, this guy is a professor of minimum-wage-security-guard studies so you're not allowed to point out his idiocy!"
I have better things to do than converse with someone acting like a hysterical person who clearly knows almost nothing about this topic.
  #46  
Old 04-25-2015, 01:22 PM
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Again, cite evidence people are being sent to jail based on this?
So your contention is that no one has ever gone to prison based on a discredited forensic technique?

http://californiainnocenceproject.or...on-in-indiana/

From Indiana, the state where Sommers sourced 60% of his data for whatever reason.

Quote:
Okay, so I take it you have no expertise or experience to chastise these people.
I don't need to know every panel where the Red Skull has ever appeared to tell you Captain America isn't real, I don't need to have the Bible memorized to comprehend that God doesn't exist, and I don't need to go to security-guard school to tell a "criminal justice professor" or you that you are defending the validity of wizards sending people to prison.

Quote:
I have better things to do than converse with someone acting like a hysterical person who clearly knows almost nothing about this topic.
You're the one who thinks no one goes to prison based on forensics and everyone who is arrested is guilty. America had a revolution about this once. You should be more more hysterical or move to a country more suited to your personality.
  #47  
Old 04-26-2015, 01:50 AM
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flaws?


Perhaps you're using a modern definition of "none", but in my experience, the exculpatory value of all of these things you listed as having "no scientific validity" is pretty high. A bullet with left hand twist rifling didn't come out of a gun with RH twist. Clear fingerprints (not electronically matched numerical points of comparison) can sure as hell be verified as nothing like a suspects. (I have no complete whorls on any finger, if you see a clear whorl fingerprint on a surface, it didn't come from me). Now, positive matching is a bit riskier, but it's still a big jump from a claim of zero validity.

I'd be really interested in a cite on "crime labs not paid unless they produce a match"

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Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
There is no scientific validity whatsoever to hair analysis, ballistic matching, arson investigation, bite mark matching, handwriting analysis, or fingerprint matching.

All of these techniques were developed within police and prosecution environments and not by scientists, and none of them have survived proper scientific review.

In addition to the fact that the underlying techniques are just as valid as phrenology or psychic readings, it is also the case that "crime labs" are staffed by employees of the police and prosecutor and understand that their job is to get convictions, not do honest science. In many cases, this is reinforced by an explicit policy of not paying the crime lab unless a "match" is found.

These are all true facts. Asserting that "he was probably guilty anyway" or trying to start a debate about the death penalty do not change either the above objectively true facts, nor the moral consequences of ignoring them.
  #48  
Old 04-26-2015, 07:17 AM
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You're the one who thinks [...] everyone who is arrested is guilty.
Please cite the post where this was stated.
  #49  
Old 04-26-2015, 09:11 AM
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I'd be really interested in a cite on "crime labs not paid unless they produce a match"
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haberdash View Post
Linked from the article I already posted...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/0...n_3837471.html

The exculpatory value of large-scale non-matches may apply to some forms of forensics. The problem is that when juries come to expect it or when the police-controlled crime labs are the ones looking for the non-match, it does more harm than good to defendants. Most people in court can't afford to independently test evidence.
  #50  
Old 04-26-2015, 11:42 AM
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What shocks me about this story is that I knew that they could do mitochondrial DNA analysis of hair, which can exculpate suspects and can be useful forensic science. I had no idea that visual comparison of hair fibers was being used as evidence at trial. I thought that was just a scam detectives pulled to spook suspects into confessing.

It's really depressing when the FBI screws something up like this, because they have the resources to get it right. But this isn't the first time, and it won't be the last. Once upon a time they made big investments in techniques to determine the precise metallurgical composition of bullets found at crime scenes. At best, such analysis could match a bullet to a particular manufacturer's batch, which obviously isn't very useful as evidence of guilt (the box of bullets in his gun safe came from the same batch as the crime scene bullet), but damned if they didn't try to make use of it.

Last edited by MOIDALIZE; 04-26-2015 at 11:43 AM.
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