This blog has frequently discussed ongoing efforts to make the various disciplines of forensic science more reliable:

Scholarship Saturday: Strategies to improve the quality of expert testimony offered at trial (August 12, 2017)

Scholarship Saturday: The chronic problem of invalid expert opinion testimony (August 5, 2017)

Scholarship Saturday: DOJ asks the public to submit ideas on forensic science (April 15, 2017)

Scholarship Saturday: Forensic science standards beginning to take form (April 1, 2017)

Scholarship Saturday: Believe the accused (April 25, 2015)

A recent three-part video series entitled “False Positive”, created by Joss Fong and published by Vox Media, explores the issue anew, through the lens of the 1985 wrongful conviction of Robert Lee Stinson.

At 21 years old, Mr. Stinson was arrested and wrongfully incarcerated for 23 years because of unreliable in-court expert opinion testimony from two government forensic scientists.

Vox may seem a strange source of scholarship.  It is described by the New York Times as a “technology company that produces media, as opposed to a media company that uses technology.”  It is not, say, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

But, Vox’s work here is thorough, well-researched, and offers well-framed and informed explanations of the complexity involved in any forensic science process. The series focuses on bite mark analysis, but the pitfalls that have bedeviled that field of work are applicable across the forensic science enterprise.

The series revives the question of whether those pitfalls have been adequately addressed since 1985, when jurors were misled, by well-intentioned but insufficiently rigorous prosecutors and judges, into depriving Mr. Stinson a third of his life.

The series can be viewed on YouTube:

Part 1—How bite marks made one man a murder suspect

Part 2—How junk science convicted an innocent man

Part 3—A murder solved, 23 years later



4 Responses to “Scholarship Saturday: A three-part video series on forensic science”

  1. Vulture says:

    “Go down to the University of Wisconsin and look for the Department of Bite Marks… Its not there.”
    Best. Harbinger. Ever.

  2. Bob says:

    John Oliver also did a pretty good segment on these issues:

  3. Kettle Black says:

    Wow, Vox and John Oliver.  In the same posting, no less.  John Oliver is an expert at ranting to a studio audience about a strawman.  While entertaining at times, it’s hardly scholarship… :D

  4. stewie says:

    You can snipe at the messenger KB, but if you are going to pretend there are not significant issues with several supposed forensic science methods like bite mark identification, or fabric matching, or even some issues with fingerprints and other supposedly nearly iron-clad forensic tools that have been sold for decades to juries as more or less hard science and dispositive…then that’s all you are doing…sniping.