Category: The Crisis of Forensic Sciences

When you watch CSI, you see forensic investigators always catch their perp. But in the real world, is their science really so good? Since the early 2000s, there has been a crisis within the forensic sciences; scholars, activists, and lawyers have pointed to startling false positives, unsupported methodologies, and absurd claims. In this series of episodes, we explore the relationship between scientific expertise and the criminal justice system. How much faith should we have in these technologies? Do they provide us a more ‘objective’ method for investigating crimes, or do they just amplify racial and institutional biases, giving police officers the answers they already had in mind?

EP53: Survival of the Leftest: Should We Embrace Behavioural Genetics?

EP53: Survival of the Leftest: Should We Embrace Behavioural Genetics?

Can genetics play a role in crafting left social policy? Or should we not touch those ideas ever again–even with a 10 foot pole? Paige Harden’s new book, “The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality” makes a forceful case for an egalitarian politics informed by DNA.  However, geneticist Joseph Graves critiqued the book in the pages of the Lancet, arguing that we do not need sophisticated genetic knowledge to make a more socially just world. Managing producer Marc Apollonio guest hosts, talking to both. 

——————-PROGRAMMING NOTE——————

You may have noticed the last couple weeks we have been posting less frequently. For the next few months, we are switching over to releasing every two weeks because of funding reasons. We think it will be temporary, and regular host Gordon Katic will be back next week with a more detailed update. Still, now more than ever, we need your support! If you like what you hear, chip in. You can find us on patreon.com/dartsandletters

—————————-CONTACT US————————

To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you’d like to write to us, email darts@citedmedia.ca.

—————————-CREDITS—————————

Darts and Letters was hosted and produced this week by Marc Apollonio, who is also our managing producer, with editing from Gordon Katic. Our lead producer is Jay Cockburn. Our theme song and music was created by Mike Barber, our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop, and our marketing was done by Ian Sowden.

This is a production of Cited Media. We work primarily in Toronto, Ontario, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.

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)

DNA offers us the promise of an objective forensic science. Rather than following our own racially-biased hunches, technology can deliver us the unvarnished truth. Yet, we always interpret technology through our own particular lens, and within a society that produces technology in a particular sort of way.  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.

  • First (@3:44), Kimani Boden is a Melbourne-based attorney who served as Farah Jama’s appeal lawyer. He takes us through the trial, the circumstances surrounding the story, and the use and misuse of DNA evidence. He points to race as a factor, reminding us that the criminal justice system is rarely as unbiased as some would have us believe.
  • Then, (@20:07) Stephen Cordner is the former director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. He was the head of the VIFM, which oversaw the sexual assault centre related to the case, at the time when this story was unfolding. He discusses what went wrong, how we might be more sceptical of DNA evidence, and how we might prevent similar wrongful convictions in the future.
  • Finally (@27:13), Amade M’charek is professor of the Anthropology of Science at the University of Amsterdam, where she researches forensics and race. She argues that legal systems around the world need to be more critical of forensic science, taking us through the state of forensics and the challenge of new and evolving technologies in the field – including an emergent technology that uses DNA to produce composite images of potential suspects.

——————-FURTHER READING AND LISTENING——————

——————-SUPPORT THE SHOW————————-

We need your support. If you like what you hear, chip in. You can find us on patreon.com/dartsandletters. Patreon subscribers usually get the episode a day early, and sometimes will also receive bonus content.

Don’t have the money to chip in this week? Not to fear, you can help in other ways. For one: subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. It helps other people find our work.

—————————-CONTACT US————————

To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you’d like to write to us, email darts@citedmedia.ca or tweet Gordon directly.

—————————-CREDITS—————————

Darts and Letters was hosted and produced this week by Marc Apollonio, who is also our managing producer, with editing from Gordon Katic. Our lead producer is Jay Cockburn. Roland Nadler provided research assistance and David Moscrop wrote the show notes.

Special thanks this week to Julie Szego.

Our theme song and music was created by Mike Barber, our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop, and our marketing was done by Ian Sowden.

This is a production of Cited Media. And we are backed by academic grants that support mobilizing research. This episode was also a part of a 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.

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.

  • First (@7:23), what do you see in this image? Wrong answer, off to jail! We look at the state of forensic psychology, and how to improve it. Tess Neal is associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University. She studied the quality of hundreds of assessment tools and processes used to understand individuals and found that the quality…varies. A lot.
  • Then, (@24:34) what might neuroscience tell us about criminality – and how dangerous is that as a source of assessment tools? Roland Nadler is a PhD candidate in law at the University of British Columbia and a Darts and Letters researcher. This is Minority Report type stuff and the implications are, to say the least, potentially very disturbing with technologies ripe for abuse, error, and systemic injustice.
  • Finally (@46:08), the history of madness is extraordinary, and it comes with warnings for the current and future of psychological and neuroscientific techniques in the criminal justice system. Andrew Scull is a sociologist and the author of Madness in Civilisation: The Cultural History of Insanity, From the Madhouse to Modern Medicine. He defines madness and guides us through its history throughout the last several hundred years.

——————-FURTHER READING AND LISTENING——————

——————-SUPPORT THE SHOW————————-

We need your support. If you like what you hear, chip in. You can find us on patreon.com/dartsandletters. Patreon subscribers usually get the episode a day early, and sometimes will also receive bonus content.

Don’t have the money to chip in this week? Not to fear, you can help in other ways. For one: subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. It helps other people find our work.

—————————-CONTACT US————————-

To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you’d like to write to us, email darts@citedmedia.ca

—————————-CREDITS—————————-

Darts and Letters was hosted and produced this week by Jay Cockburn, with editing from Gordon Katic. Our managing producer is Marc Apollonio. Roland Nadler provided research assistance, and David Moscrop wrote the show notes.

Our theme song and music was created by Mike Barber, our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop, and our marketing was done by Ian Sowden.

This is a production of Cited Media. And we are backed by academic grants that support mobilizing research.. This episode was also a part of a 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.

EP17: Pathological: The Work of Dr. Charles Smith

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.

  • First, Tammy Wynne was wrongfully convinced of the murder of her son, Kenneth. She spent over 13 years in prison.
  • Next, Wynne’s lawyer James Lockyer tells us the story of her exoneration and what came of Dr. Smith.
  • Finally, cognitive neuroscientist Itiel Dror helps us understand what’s wrong with expert decision-making.

——————-FURTHER READING & LISTENING——————-

—————————-CONTACT US————————-

To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. If you’d like to write to us, email darts@citedmedia.ca or tweet Gordon directly.

——————-SUPPORT THE SHOW——————-

We need your support. If you like what you hear, chip in. You can find us on patreon.com/dartsandletters. Patreon subscribers — such as Janice, Hart, and Sean — usually get the episode a day early, and sometimes will also receive bonus content.

Don’t have the money to chip in this week? Not to fear, you can help in other ways. For one: subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. It helps other people find our work.

—————————-CREDITS—————————-

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.

 

EP16.1: Mesmerizing Convolutions: The Rise of Fingerprint Identification

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.

——————-FURTHER READING & LISTENING——————-

—————————-CONTACT US————————-

To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. If you’d like to write to us, email darts@citedmedia.ca or tweet Gordon directly.

——————-SUPPORT THE SHOW——————-

We need your support. If you like what you hear, chip in. You can find us on patreon.com/dartsandletters. Patreon subscribers — such as Janice, Hart, and Sean — usually get the episode a day early, and sometimes will also receive bonus content.

Don’t have the money to chip in this week? Not to fear, you can help in other ways. For one: subscribe, rate, and review our podcast. It helps other people find our work.

—————————-CREDITS—————————-

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.

EP16: Derailed: The Crisis of Forensic Expertise

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. 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——————-

—————————-CONTACT US————————-

To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. If you’d like to write to us, email darts@citedmedia.ca or tweet Gordon directly.

—————————-CREDITS—————————-

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.