Forensic Science Is Not CSI, in Ferguson or Anywhere Else
The other day, I wrote about how unreliable eyewitness testimony is, despite the fact that the criminal justice system treats it as solid evidence. However, this is not the only type of evidence that is far less reliable than we perceive it: There are also major shortcomings to almost all forms of “scientific” evidence used in court cases, namely forensic evidence and expert witnesses. Yet the public has been conditioned, thanks in no small part to CSI and other crime shows, to think that forensic science is perfect.
Forensic evidence is important for criminal investigations and subsequent convictions. Americans are fortunate enough not to live in a police state, so there will not always be a cop or a camera around when every crime transpires. However, the depiction on television of forensic experts doing 100% accurate science is about as realistic as their delivering snappy one-liners. Scientific methods have the potential for error, both flawed science and human error (or humans just plain lying). Nevertheless, as in the case of eyewitness testimony, juries are not informed of the shortcomings.