ARTICLE
The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences
Jennifer L. Mnookin et al. 
58 UCLA L. Rev. 725

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Abstract

The methods, techniques, and reliability of the forensic sciences in general, and the pattern identification disciplines in particular, have faced significant scrutiny in recent years. Critics have attacked the scientific basis for the assumptions and claims made by forensic scientists both in and out of the courtroom. Defenders have emphasized courts’ longstanding acceptance of forensic science evidence, the relative dearth of known errors, and practitioners’ skill and experience. This Article reflects an effort made by a diverse group of participants in these debates, including law professors, academics from several disciplines, and practicing forensic scientists, to find and explore common ground. To what extent do the forensic sciences need to change in order to place themselves on an appropriately secure foundation in the twenty- first century? We all firmly agree that the traditional forensic sciences in general, and the pattern identification disciplines, such as fingerprint, firearm, toolmark, and handwriting identification evidence in particular, do not currently possess—and absolutely must develop—a well-established scientific foundation. This can only be accomplished through the development of a research culture that permeates the entire field of forensic science. A research culture, we argue, must be grounded in the values of empiricism, transparency, and a commitment to an ongoing critical perspective. The forensic science disciplines need to substantially increase their commitment to evidence from empirical research as the basis for their conclusions. Sound research, rather than experience, training, and longstanding use, must become the central method by which assertions are justified. In this Article, we describe the underdeveloped research culture in the non-DNA forensic sciences, offer suggestions for how it might be improved, and explain why it matters.


* Jennifer L. Mnookin, Professor of Law, Founding Co-Director of the Program on Law, Science, and Evidence (PULSE), UCLA School of Law.

Simon A. Cole, Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, Law & Society, UC Irvine.

Itiel E. Dror, Researcher, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, London, and Principal Consultant, Cognitive Consultants International (CCI).

Barry A. J. Fisher, Crime Laboratory Director (retired), Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Max M. Houck, Director, Forensic Science Initiative, Research Office, and Director, Forensic Business Research and Development, College of Business and Economics, West Virginia University.

Keith Inman, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Administration, Cal State University, East Bay, and Senior Criminalist, Forensic Analytical Sciences, Inc.

David H. Kaye, Distinguished Professor and Weiss Family Scholar, Dickinson School of Law, and Graduate Faculty, Forensic Science Program, Eberly College of Science, Penn State University.

Jonathan J. Koehler, Beatrice Kuhn Professor of Law, Northwestern University School of Law.

Glenn Langenburg, Forensic Scientist, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Forensic Science Services.

D. Michael Risinger, John J. Gibbons Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law.

Norah Rudin, Forensic DNA Consultant.

Jay Siegel, Chair, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Director, Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program, Indiana University–Purdue University.

David A. Stoney, Chief Scientist, Stoney Forensic, Inc.

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