Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Capacity for human error in DNA testing: New York Times reveals an F.B.I. audit which unearthed errors in DNA profiles. Head of New York's Legal Aid DNA unit says the audit's revelations point out how human error can detract from the reliablity of the testing process. (Must Read. HL);

STORY: "F.B.I. audit of database that indexes DNA finds errors in profiles," by reporter Joseph Goldstein, published by the New York Times on January 24, 2014.

GIST: "The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a review of a national DNA database, has identified nearly 170 profiles that probably contain errors, some the result of handwriting mistakes or interpretation errors by lab technicians, while New York State authorities have turned up mistakes in DNA profiles in New York’s database. The discoveries, submitted by the New York City medical examiner’s office to a state oversight panel, show that the capacity for human error is ever-present, even when it comes to the analysis of DNA evidence, which can take on an aura of infallibility in court, defense lawyers and scientists said. The errors identified so far implicate only a tiny fraction of the total DNA profiles in the national database, which holds nearly 13 million profiles, more than 12 million from convicts and suspects, and an additional 527,000 from crime scenes. Still, the disclosure of scores of mistaken DNA profiles at once appears to be unprecedented, scientists said.........“These revelations spotlight how human error can detract from the reliability of the testing process,” said Alan Gardner, the head of Legal Aid’s DNA unit, which is challenging the city medical examiner’s methods for discerning DNA profiles in complex mixture cases. In court, prosecutors often describe the strength of DNA evidence against a defendant with numbers that can run into the billions — expressing how unlikely it is that a person chosen at random would also have a DNA profile linked to the crime scene. But the rate of errors by a lab or a technician, a less dramatic topic, can be a much more relevant statistic, many defense lawyers and some scientists said. “If we say there is a 1-in-10-quadrillion chance that someone else might have the same DNA profile, but there is also a 1-in-10,000 chance that there was a mistake in generating the profile, the only number the jurors should be paying attention to is the error rating, said Dr. Krane, who was once on a forensic science commission for the State of Virginia and now consults with defense lawyers on DNA cases."
The entire story can be found at:


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