By contrast, much more research is needed on the natural variability of burn patterns and damage characteristics and how they are affected by the presence of various accelerants. Despite the paucity of research, some arson investigators continue to make determinations about whether or not a particular fire was set. However, according to testimony presented to the committee,118 many of the rules of thumb that are typically assumed to indicate that an accelerant was used (e.g., “alligatoring” of wood, specific char patterns) have been shown not to be true.119 Experiments should be designed to put arson investigations on a more solid scientific footing.

FORENSIC ODONTOLOGY

Forensic odontology, the application of the science of dentistry to the field of law, includes several distinct areas of focus: the identification of unknown remains, bite mark comparison, the interpretation of oral injury, and dental malpractice. Bite mark comparison is often used in criminal prosecutions and is the most controversial of the four areas just mentioned. Although the identification of human remains by their dental characteristics is well established in the forensic science disciplines, there is continuing dispute over the value and scientific validity of comparing and identifying bite marks.120

Many forensic odontologists providing criminal testimony concerning bite marks belong to the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), which was organized in 1976 and is recognized by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences as a forensic specialty. The ABFO offers board certification to its members.121

Sample Data and Collection

Bite marks are seen most often in cases of homicide, sexual assault, and child abuse. The ABFO has approved guidelines for the collection of evidence from bite mark victims and suspected biters.122 The techniques for obtaining bite mark evidence from human skin—for example, various forms of photography, dental casts, clear overlays, computer enhancement, electron microscopy, and swabbing for serology or DNA—generally are

118

J. Lentini. Scientific Fire Analysis, LLC. Presentation to the committee. April 23, 2007. Available at www7.nationalacademies.org/stl/April%20Forensic%20Lentini.pdf.

119

NFPA 921 Guide for Explosion and Fire Investigations, 2008 Edition. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association.

120

E.g., J.A. Kieser. 2005. Weighing bitemark evidence: A postmodern perspective. Journal of Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology 1(2):75-80.

121

American Board of Forensic Odontology at www.abfo.org.

122

Ibid.



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