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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
of large populations to establish the uniqueness of marks or features. Yet, despite the lack of a statistical foundation, examiners make probabilistic claims based on their experience. A statistical framework that allows quantification of these claims is greatly needed. These disciplines also critically need to standardize and clarify the terminology used in reporting and testifying about the results and in providing more information.
Little rigorous systematic research has been done to validate the basic premises and techniques in a number of forensic science disciplines. The committee sees no evident reason why conducting such research is not feasible; in fact, some researchers have proposed research agendas to strengthen the foundations of specific forensic disciplines.12 Much more federal funding is needed to support research in forensic science and forensic pathology in universities and in private laboratories committed to such work. The forensic science and medical examiner communities (see Chapter 9) will be improved by opportunities to collaborate with the broader science and engineering communities. In particular, collaborative efforts are urgently needed to: (1) develop new technical methods or provide in-depth grounding for advances developed in forensic science; (2) provide an interface between the forensic science and medical examiner communities and basic sciences; and (3) create fertile grounds for discourse among the communities. The proposed National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) should recommend, implement, and guide strategies for supporting such initiatives.
Although a long-term research agenda will require a thorough assessment of each of the assumptions that underlie forensic science techniques, many concerns regarding the forensic science disciplines can be addressed immediately through studies in which forensic science practitioners are presented with a standardized set of realistic training materials that vary in complexity. Such studies will not explore the components of the decision process, but they will permit an assessment of the extent to which skilled forensic science practitioners will reach the same or similar conclusions when presented with the types of materials that lead to disagreements.
The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), after reviewing established standards such as ISO 17025, and in consultationwith its advisory board, should establish standard terminology tobe used in reporting on and testifying about the results of forensicscience investigations. Similarly, it should establish model laboratory reports for different forensic science disciplines and specify
See, e.g., L. Haber and R.N. Haber. 2008. Scientific validation of fingerprint evidence under Daubert. Law, Probability and Risk 7(2):87-109.