The world of forensic science has been in turmoil for six months, since a National Academy of Sciences panel issued a study raising serious questions about many forensic techniques from hair analysis to fingerprints. Those techniques resulted in thousands of people landing in prison. Now, reports National Public Radio, groups in the forensic science community are fighting over what the next steps should be. Physicist Thomas Bohan, president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, says scientists knew for years that many forensic techniques “lacked scientific evaluation,” but there was no political will to do anything about it. Now the critical panel report offers “an opening, an opportunity,” Bohan says. “It will be a terrible shame if change doesn’t take place,” says Bohan.
Some key recommendations from the people who wrote the report don’t have much support from anyone. The report recommends creating an independent organization to oversee forensic techniques. “There is no entity like this right now,” says Constantine Gatsonis, who co-chaired the committee that wrote the forensic sciences report. “And hence what you’ve seen is every entity pulling in [its] own way. My personal opinion is that real progress is going to be very difficult without such an entity.” That proposal now looks all but dead. Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association says his members “don’t agree with setting up a national institute of forensic science, another bureaucracy.”