The new National Academy of Sciences report on forensic science mirrors findings of a 2004 Chicago Tribune series, “Forensics Under the Microscope.” The Tribune found that a number of forensic disciplines, including some used in police stations and courtrooms every day, relied on flawed science, and their use contributed to the arrests and convictions of innocent people. Here are four of the major issues considered both by the newspaper and the academy: Over the last decade, fingerprint comparisons, the grandfather of forensic science, has seen its reliability questioned and its reputation battered, by both revelations of high-profile mistakes and a lack of uniform standards.
Bullet-lead analysis: Chemical analysis of the lead in bullets allowed crime lab technicians to compare bullets found at a crime scene to, say, bullets found in the possession of a top suspect, but such analysis, after in-depth scrutiny, was determined to be flawed and unreliable. Arson indicators: For years, investigators relied on a series of indicators to help them determine whether a fire was intentionally set; scientific advances showed those indicators were just myths. Bite-mark comparisons: DNA has helped show that they are subjective and that even many of the discipline’s founders have helped to send innocent people to prison and Death Row.