Mini-Series: The Crisis in Forensic Science

Forensic science is nothing like you see on CSI. It’s nothing like regular science, either. A lot of it is incubated within the police forces, and not peer reviewed in the academy. So, critics say many of the methods are not reliable. In fact, there have been some very high-profile wrongful convictions. This has led to a major reckoning in the forensic sciences. Our series examines the state of the field, and tells stories of those who were caught up in academic debates that were anything but academic. For additional credits and resources, click the individual episode links below.

  • Thumbnail for EP52: The DNA of a Wrongful Imprisonment  (ft. Kimani Boden, Stephen Cordner & Amade M’charek)

    EP52: The DNA of a Wrongful Imprisonment (ft. Kimani Boden, Stephen Cordner & Amade M’charek)

    In this episode, we look at how forensic DNA technologies relate to our ideas about race and criminality. We see how DNA led to the imprisonment of an innocent man, Farah Jama. Then, we look at the frontier of forensic DNA and artificial intelligence. A new technique promises to draw an image of a suspect based solely on what we see in the DNA, but critics say these pictures are entrenching stereotypes about race and crime.
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  • Thumbnail for EP51: This is Your Brain on Trial  (ft. Andrew Scull, Tess Neal & Roland Nadler)

    EP51: This is Your Brain on Trial (ft. Andrew Scull, Tess Neal & Roland Nadler)

    Imagine reading or watching The Minority Report and thinking of that as a model for the criminal justice system. Well, plenty of forensic types are doing just that. Can you figure out if you are a criminal by scanning your brain? On this episode of Darts and Letters, guest-host Jay Cockburn and our guests explore the study of the criminal mind, from the history of madness, to spotty personality tests, to the emerging neuroscientific frontier.
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  • EP17: Pathological: The Work of Dr. Charles Smith

    Dr. Charles Smith performed autopsies at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, ON. The cops kept turning to him with new corpses, and he kept claiming that these deaths were the result of foul play. He was thought of as a God in his field–few people were willing to question his work. That is until a 2008 inquiry, which found evidence of errors in 20 of the 45 autopsies they reviewed. Dr. Smith’s judgements played a role in 13 wrongful convictions. On this episode, we tell one of those stories.
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  • EP16.1: Mesmerizing Convolutions: The Rise of Fingerprint Identification

    In this bonus episode, Gordon Katic speaks with Simon A. Cole, a professor of Criminology, Law and Society at University of California Irvine. He’s the author of “Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification”. We do a deep dive into the social and political story of fingerprinting, and how it took more than a century before anyone tried to figure out if it actually worked
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  • EP16: Derailed: The Crisis of Forensic Expertise

    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.
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