Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ethics in forensics

From the editor at Forensic Magazine: "In the past year, we have had an increased interest from our readers in the question of ethics in forensics. Especially in light of the frequent news reports of questionable laboratory practices, corrupt analysts, and cover-ups.

The question I would raise in answer to this growing concern for the quality of forensic work is: has there been a fundamental change in the way that forensic laboratories are functioning to which we can attribute a decrease in quality? Or, is it in fact a greater awareness of quality that is making it easier to highlight the troubled labs? In other words, are we really seeing a drop in the quality of forensic labs around the country, or are we just more aware of quality concerns due to a focus on forensic techniques in part prompted by the NAS report and other essays on the topic?

Is it possible that the current CSI fad in popular culture—as witnessed by the many primetime TV shows, novels, and magazine articles on the topic—has made the media more aware of forensic work and therefore more likely to investigate laboratory practices, especially if there is even a rumor of malpractice or corruption?

If this is the case, the answer is not to blame TV, the media, or the “uninformed masses” for meddling in what is rightfully within our purview, but rather to raise the quality, accountability, and transparency of our work processes to combat the CSI effect. We must operate knowing that juries are filled with forensic aficionados, our success rates and backlogs are being audited by politicians and citizens alike, and our every misstep will be documented by every paper, radio station, and TV network.

Perhaps this is a tall order given tight budgets, increased caseloads, and greater pressure from local, state, and national governments; however, only success will ease these pressures. By demonstrating greater efficiency and improved results, we will shift the spotlight away from our work and back to the miscarriages of justice we strive to correct ..."


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