THE NEED FOR RESEARCH

Barry Fisher, Director of the Crime Laboratory of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has said, “We run the risk of our science being questioned in the courts because there is so little research.”8 In 2001 Giannelli wrote, “In many areas [of forensic science] little systematic research has been conducted to validate the field’s basic premises and techniques, and often there is no justification why such research would not be feasible.”9 As Smith et al. note, the United States has a renowned higher education system, and many basic research discoveries relating to the forensic science disciplines have been made in academia.10 However, the forensic science disciplines suffer from an inadequate research base: Few forensic scientists have the opportunity to conduct research, few academics are positioned to undertake such research, and, importantly, the funding for forensic research is insufficient. Others believe that the field suffers because the research initiatives being funded and pursued lack an overarching strategic plan.11

There are several explanations for the relative lack of funding for basic and applied research in the forensic science disciplines. First, forensic practice was started in, and has grown out of, the criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Many forensic science techniques were developed to aid in the investigatory phase of law enforcement and then were adapted to the role of aiding in prosecution by providing courtroom testimony. Thus, forensic practitioners who work in public crime laboratories often are seen as part of the prosecution team, not as part of the scientific enterprise. Second, some of the forensic science disciplines rely on an apprenticeship model for training, rather than on codifying their methods in a scientific framework. Third, federal agencies that fund scientific work, such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Defense, generally have not considered forensic science as part of the science base they need to support. It has been only in recent years that the National Institute of Justice has taken interest in funding forensic science research, but the majority of these funds have been awarded to reduce case backlogs, especially for cases that involve the analysis of DNA (see Chapter 2).

8

K. Pyrek. 2007. Forensic Science Under Siege: The Challenges of Forensic Laboratories and the Medico-Legal Investigation System. Burlington, MA: Academic Press, p. 231.

9

P.C. Giannelli. 2001. Scientific evidence in civil and criminal cases. Arizona State Law Journal 103:112.

10

F.P. Smith, R.H. Liu, and C.A. Lindquist. 1988. Research experience and future criminalists. Journal of Forensic Sciences 33(4):1074-1080.

11

IAI Positions and Recommendations to the NAS Committee to Review the Forensic Sciences. September 19, 2007. See presentation by K.F. Martin, IAI President, to the committee. December 6, 2007.



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