In recent years, the rigorous science involved in DNA testing has cast a harsh light on such questionable forensic practices as bite-mark testimony, comparisons of hair, handwriting, tire treads and footprints, and certain kinds of ballistic analysis, writes New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer. The investigative practices had become embedded in the American criminal justice system since the early 20th century. Many of them resembled science but turned out to be more like magic, and untrustworthy evidence. Those reform efforts appear to have lost their momentum.
This week the U.S. Justice Department announced it was shutting down a National Commission on Forensic Science set up four years ago. Separately, studies of the “foundational validity” of bite marks and ballistic evidence that had been announced in September are ending. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said his department would take unspecified actions to “increase the capacity of forensic science providers” and improve the reliability of analysis. Yet there are many unresolved questions about which forensic practices even qualify as science. “If you want to put in a nutshell what’s wrong with some of these forensic sciences, it’s that they’re not really science at all,” said Jed S. Rakoff, a federal judge in New York who served on the commission.