Friday, June 26, 2015

DNA testing: Another eye-opener from the Marshall Project; "The Surprisingly Imperfect Science of DNA Testing: How a proven tool may be anything but." By reporter Katie Worth; (Produced in partnership with Fusion and Frontline); (Must Read. HL);

STORY: "The surprisingly imperfect science of DNA testing: How a proven tool may be anything but," by reporter Katie Worth, published by the Marshall Project on June 24, 2015. (This story was produced in partnership with Fusion and FRONTLINE.)  Thanks to the Wrongful Convictions Blog for bringing this insightful article to our attention.  As the WCB points out: "DNA testing is the gold standard in forensic science, and it has been used to free hundreds of innocent inmates since 1989. But it has also falsely implicated other innocents, and it likely will do so even more as labs push the technological envelope to solve crimes, the Marshall Project reports here. Add human error to the equation, and you have the recipe for potential disasters." Must Read. HL;

GIST: "Fahnestock’s answer was a simple acknowledgement that even at its best, DNA science is not absolute. To Brian, it was proof that DNA cannot be trusted. In the three decades since DNA emerged as a forensic tool, courts have rarely been skeptical about its power. When the technique of identifying people by their genes was invented, it seemed like just the thing the justice system had always been waiting for: Bare, scientific fact that could circumvent the problems of human perception, motivation, and bias. Other forensic sciences had taken a stab at this task. Lie detector tests, ballistics, fingerprinting, arson analysis, hair examinations — all aim to provide evidence independent of the flawed humans wrapped up in an investigation. But those methods were invented by law-enforcement agencies eager for clues; it is now well established that their results are not always sound. With few alternatives, police and courts spent most of the 20th century hammering away at justice with the rubber tools of traditional forensics. DNA was different. It came up through science, which began, in the 1950s, to unravel the ways the double helix drafts our existence. When DNA profiling led to its first conviction in a U.S. courtroom in 1987, DNA had already vaulted through the validating hoops of the scientific method. Soon it was accompanied by odds with enough zeros in front of the decimal to eliminate reasonable doubt. Today, most of us see DNA evidence as terrifically persuasive: A 2005 Gallup poll found that 85 percent of Americans considered DNA to be either very or completely reliable. Studies by researchers at the University of Nevada, Yale, and Claremont McKenna College found that jurors rated DNA evidence 95 percent accurate and between 90 and 94 percent persuasive, depending on where the DNA was found. That faith could be shaken, but only when lawyers made a convincing case that a lab had a history of errors. Otherwise, the mere introduction of DNA in a courtroom seemed to stymie any defense. “A mystical aura of definitiveness often surrounds the value of DNA evidence,” the studies’ authors wrote. In many cases, this aura is deserved. The method is unequivocal when it tests a large quantity of one person’s well-preserved genes, when it’s clear how that evidence arrived at a crime scene, and when the lab makes no errors in its work. But those are not circumstances enjoyed by every criminal investigation........."

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See Mike Bowers comments on this article by Mike Bowers on his informative site  CSIDDS: (Link below); "The best journalism on this subject I have so far seen in print. From the Marshall Project. It describes the influence of DNA popularity with juries juries amounting to I call a “Reverse CSI Effect.” The original CSI effect (according to prosecutors) being juries expecting more TV-like forensic sci evidence before rendering a guilty verdict. The “reverse” is juries’s incredibly high belief in DNA accuracy when it does show up in criminal trials. This article looks at the other side of that coin, It tells the tale of interpretative limits of Low Cell Number mixed DNA specimens, and the nether world of poor evidence preservation, bio-interpretation disagreement, expectational bias, and the unsettling disparity in DNA profiling options and standards. Juries don’t seem to understand how “amped up DNA” taken from a low number of cells and the use of diverse testing “assumptions” leads to diasagreement and doubts regarding its reliability. The article clearly says that RMP studies within multiple law enforcement run databases are frowned upon or outright considered secret. The scant look that IS available should influence a layman to wonder further about weaknesses in certain aspects. Even committees of experts within the field take a dim view of each other. Barry Scheck has a substantial quote. My layman view is that LCN DNA reliability may be useful for suspect elimination. Here’s a short excerpt. “In the three decades since DNA emerged as a forensic tool, courts have rarely been skeptical about its power.”"

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