Editorial: First flight

FIVE YEARS: That’s how much time passed—almost exactly—from the time the National Academy of Sciences published their 2009 report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, until the National Commission on Forensic Science had its first meeting.

Critics say it took too long. They say the commission’s membership of 37 professionals doesn’t maintain a balance between lawyers, judges, academicians, and forensic science practitioners. And, according to the opening remarks given to the commission on February 3, 2014 by Judge Harry T. Edwards—who served as co-chair of the NAS committee that wrote the 2009 report—there are those who believe that nothing of any consequence will come as a result of the commission.

“I have heard some cynical observers suggest that the commission has been established simply to placate the many people in this country who have decried the absence of meaningful reform in the forensic community,” said Edwards. “These cynics do not believe that anything will come of this venture. I hope they are wrong. In any event, I trust that you know that many people will be watching your efforts with the greatest interest in the months ahead.”

For those on the outside looking in, it may seem an arduous process… And why shouldn’t it be? The commission’s objective will be a massive undertaking. But, for the forensic science community, there promises to be opportunities to observe this undertaking (through publicly available materials from each meeting) and even to participate in the process (through the new Organization of Scientific Area Committees). (See Page 28 for more on OSAC.)

I spoke with commission Vice Chair John Butler in early February, the day after the first meeting concluded. Thanks to the phone lines that connected my snowed-in Midwest office to his iced-in East Coast home, I heard in his voice a sense of accomplishment and relief.

“It’s taken a while to get everything in place,” said Butler, recounting the steps that led to the establishment of the new National Commission on Forensic Science. “The exciting part for me is that now, everything’s open. Now the commission is launched. In other words, we have been building the plane, and now it’s actually in flight. Hopefully we can keep it flying and fueled well—and have it make a difference.”

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Evidence Technology Magazine


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Item of Interest

The language barrier between English-speaking investigators and Spanish-speaking witnesses is a growing problem. (Updated 28 February 2011)

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