Monday, May 19, 2008

Author reacts to forensics post

I forwarded the Grits post on forensics from earlier today to Roger Koppl, who authored the Forbes magazine article it was based on. He was gracious enough to react via email, so with his permission I thought I'd post his response as a stand-alone:
Thanks for sending me an email notice of your blog and thanks for the blog. Please allow me to note that I did say in the Forbes piece, “Creating the right to a forensic expert for the defense would help restore the imbalance in scientific firepower that too often exists between prosecution and defense.” I have been calling for forensic defense experts since my first publication on these issues in 2005. But I must admit I have only recently come to see it as the lynchpin reform.

IMHO you need more than one knock-down reform. You need a suite of interlocking reforms. I still think I hit the right mix in my 2005 paper, which is attached. If I did get it right, however, there are still two big questions needing attention. 1) How do you translate your design principles into measures that can be implemented by policymakers? 2) What is the right sequence of reforms?

I’ve been working a lot on the first question, in part through my NSF-funded experimental research. That research seems to show that you need triplicate testing, not merely duplicate testing. I have given serious thought to the second question only recently, when I realized that you need to start with forensic defense experts. I made that argument earlier this month at a DNA seminar for public defenders.

I strongly agree with your desire to make forensics a part of the adversarial process, rather than hoping to somehow lift it above the adversarial process. I think you are quite right to say “forensic science isn't neutral, no matter who performs it.”

Thanks for letting me respond in such detail to this morning’s very welcome blog on forensics.

Koppl also forwarded me a copy of his 2005 paper, "How to improve forensic science" (pdf) from the European Journal of Law and Economics, in which he declared that "Forensic workers have inadequate incentives to produce reliable analyses of police evidence," and suggested breaking up the "monopoly" held by the state on forensic analysis. More of his research on the topic is linked here. Thanks, Roger, for the extra analysis and background.

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