Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bad forensics: Reporter Rachel Mendleson explores why it's so hard to keep bad forensics out of the courtroom - and how, when bad science (or a bad scientist) infects the judicial process, things can go very wrong, very quickly; (Former doctor Charles Smith makes her list of serial infectors. HL); Toronto Star.

STORY: "Why it's so hard to keep bad forensics out of the courtroom," by reporter Rachel Mendleson, published by the Toronto Star on Friday June 12, 2015.

SUB-HEADING:  "When bad science (or a bad scientist) infects the judicial process, things can go very wrong, very quickly."

GIST: "As post-conviction DNA testing has exonerated hundreds of wrongly convicted, it has revealed the inherent danger of what one New York Times op-ed column recently dubbed “the collision between the law and science.” A big problem, says Toronto defence lawyer Alan Gold, who wrote the book on expert evidence in criminal law in Canada, is that most lawyers — along with police officers, judges and jurors — simply don’t know enough to effectively challenge scientific evidence. “We all went to law school to avoid the math and science stuff,” Gold said. “The math and science stuff has pursued us into the courtroom, and we are not very well-equipped to deal with it.” Although there are standards for admissibility of evidence in both Canada and the U.S., critics say the bar is not high enough. A watershed report by the National Research Council in the U.S. in 2009 found that with the exception of DNA analysis, “no forensic method has been rigorously shown able to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.” Commonly used methods like shoe print analysis and fingerprinting are important tools, the report concluded, “but many need substantial research to validate basic premises and techniques.” In cases where there are competing scientific experts, the arbiters are often jurors without scientific training, which is less than ideal, said Hageman. “Why should it be up to a jury to listen to two testimonies and figure out which is right and which is wrong?” she said. “That’s the thing: the adversarial system doesn’t work that great when it comes to trying to get the truth out of the science.”...Bad  science and ruined lives: Flawed forensic science can have disastrous implications. As these wrongful conviction cases show, some combination of bad science — and bad scientists — is often to blame: Charles Smith cases: "Charles Randal Smith worked as a pediatric pathologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children from 1981 to 2005. Smith became the go-to expert in suspicious child death cases. However, as an inquiry into flawed pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario concluded, Smith had no formal training in this area, and believed his role was to “advocate for the Crown,” and “to make a case look good.” He testified outside his area of expertise, offered unsubstantiated opinions and, in some cases, “made false and misleading statements to the court,” the inquiry found. The fallout was catastrophic: Smith’s flawed evidence led to 13 wrongful convictions."

The entire story can be found at:

Dear Reader. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog. We are following this case.
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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

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Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;