Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An important resolution for 2013: "Make forensic evidence meet standards of science." Cliff Spiegelman and William Tobin. The Statesman. Must Read HL.

COMMENTARY: "Make forensic evidence meet standards of science," by Cliff Spiegelman and William Tobin," published in the Statesman on December 29, 2012. Cliff Spiegelman, a distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University, is a leader in the field of statistical forensics. William A. Tobin is a scientist who spent 27 years as an FBI agent, the last 24 in the FBI Laboratory, and since then has worked on legal cases as a forensic metallurgist/materials scientist.

GIST: "Largely because there has been little or no extrajudicial interest in most forensic practices in past decades other than DNA, forensic procedures such as hair and fiber analyses, bitemarks and comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA) were developed through empirical induction (observational study) by the practitioners themselves, almost exclusively nonscientists. As noted by a 2009 National Academy of Science committee report, “The fact is that many forensic tests — such as those used to infer the source of firearms or bitemarks — have never been exposed to stringent scientific scrutiny. Most of these techniques were developed in crime laboratories to aid in the investigation of evidence from a particular crime scene, and researching their limitations and foundations was never a top priority.” Although observational study (induction) is a useful basis for decision-making in everyday life (e.g., purchasing a vehicle or new shoes based on favorable outcomes of past transactions), it is a particularly tenuous process for forensic experimentation or scientific hypothesis testing without appropriate statistical inference.".........We are not suggesting, nor should our position be interpreted, that all the forensic techniques mentioned comprise “junk science” but, rather, that many testimonies are not based upon, or limited to, known or best available evidence and/or that expressions of certainty associated with proffered opinions generally constitute speculation. Examiners may believe that their opinions are based upon scientific fact, but unless these hypotheses, assertions, claims, and/or premises have been refereed and published in mainstream scientific journals rather than the in-trade publications of the insular forensic community, such opinions are unproven and can be very misleading to jurists or, worse, be the basis of inappropriate rulings or verdicts."

The entire commentary  can be found at:


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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.