The end of the (forensic science) world as we know it? The example of trace evidence
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- Journal Article
- Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2015, 370 (1674)
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© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. The dominant conception of forensic science as a patchwork of disciplines primarily assisting the criminal justice system (i.e. forensics) is in crisis or at least shows a series of anomalies and serious limitations. In recent years, symptoms of the crisis have been discussed in a number of reports by various commentators, without a doubt epitomized by the 2009 report by the US National Academies of Sciences (NAS 2009 Strengthening forensic science in the United States: a path forward). Although needed, but viewed as the solution to these drawbacks, the almost generalized adoption of stricter business models in forensic science casework compounded with ever- increasing normative and compliance processes not only place additional pressures on a discipline that already appears in difficulty, but also induce more fragmentation of the different forensic science tasks, a tenet many times denounced by the same NAS report and other similar reviews. One may ask whether these issues are not simply the result of an unfit paradigm. If this is the case, the current problems faced by forensic science may indicate future significant changes for the discipline. To facilitate broader discussion this presentation focuses on trace evidence, an area that is seminal to forensic science both for epistemological and historical reasons. There is, however, little doubt that this area is currently under siege worldwide. Current and future challenges faced by trace evidence are discussed along with some possible answers. The current situation ultimately presents some significant opportunities to re-invent not only trace evidence but also forensic science. Ultimately, a distinctive, more robust and more reliable science may emerge through rethinking the forensics paradigm built on specialisms, revisiting fundamental forensic science principles and adapting them to the twenty-first century.
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