When it comes to complex social problems, us sensible well-educated book-learnin’ types turn to the experts; we ‘believe science’ — unlike those snorting, hooting, semi-literate dunces. But over the next two weeks, we have two stories that will make you think twice about putting blind faith in experts. What if they don’t actually know what they’re talking about? That happens to be the case with many forensic experts. You know, the folks who work on blood spatter, ballistics, hand-writing analysis, fingerprints, etc. They aren’t Gods, they aren’t magicians, they ain’t anything like what you see on CSI. In fact, they get things terribly wrong; and when they do, the consequences can be catastrophic. We’ll reveal the crisis in forensic expertise, and look for ways to fix it.
- First, Brandon Mayfield is an American lawyer who was accused of the Madrid train bombings in 2004. He was later released from prison, given an apology by the United States, and paid restitution. He takes us through his ordeal and the failures of forensic science in his case and beyond.
- Next, Judge Nancy Gertner was a United States District Judge in Massachusetts and is now Senior Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. She talks about forensic science and its limitations, the structural problems of expertise, and the biases that shape court proceedings.
- Then, Gary Edmond is a law professor in the School of Law at the University of New South Wales, where he directs the Program in Expertise, Evidence, and Law. He talks about forensic evidence and the tests such evidence is put through — or not. He says forensic science is essential for detecting and resolving crime, but that doesn’t mean experts and their methodologies shouldn’t be challenged, and improved.
- Finally, Kevin Flynn is the author of five true crime books and the co-host of the podcast Crime Writers On… He takes us into the changing world of true crime writing and podcasting, including the cultural expressions of — and fascination with — crime.
——————-FURTHER READING & LISTENING——————-
- Listen to Kevin Flynn’s Crime Writers On… as they talk about the genre and its intersections in pop culture, then head to his homepage — shared with writer Rebecca Lavoie — and check out his authored/co-authored books, including Notes On A Killing and Dark Heart.
- Read Judge Gertner’s co-written article on alternatives to presenting scientific evidence and her New York Times piece on the need for judges to “set a higher standard for forensic evidence.”
- Check out Gary Edmond’s co-written article on fingerprinting and adversarialism and the rest of his work on his faculty page.
- For a review of the state of the field, dig into the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report on forensic sciences and the 2016 report to President Obama on forensic science use in criminal courts, authored by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Darts and Letters’ is hosted and edited by Gordon Katic. Our lead producer is Jay Cockburn, our assistant producer is Polly Leger, and our chase producer is Marc Apollonio. Our lead research assistant was Roland Nadler and we had academic advising from Professor Emma Cunliffe, each from the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. We had further research support from David Moscrop. Our theme song was created by Mike Barber. Our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop.
This episode received support by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research, which is funding our mini-series on the state of forensic science. The scholarly lead on that project is Professor Emma Cunliffe.
Darts and Letters is produced in Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples. It is also produced in Vancouver, BC, which is on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.