Transformation: Embracing Change – General Section, January 2016

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Source:  Joanna Collins, Section Secretary

Change is inevitable; you can adapt and overcome or you can resist and risk becoming unnecessary and obsolete. President Weedn’s theme for the 2016 Annual Meeting of Transformation: Embracing Change could not be more fitting as the mantra for the General Section and the overall field of forensic science. The General Section has a history of embracing change and the challenges that come with transforming and thriving in an ever-evolving environment. From our beginnings in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences to present day, the General Section has been described as the “risk takers who dare to enlarge the horizons of the Academy.”1 The General Section represents a wide array of disciplines within the field of forensic science and holds the titles of “Mother of the Academy” and “Birthplace of New Sections.” These designations have been earned and are coveted by the section membership. The General Section has learned to adapt and embrace the ever-changing world of forensic science.

When the Academy was formed in 1948, seven sections were established. If applicants did not fit within these sections, they were listed as “General” or “At Large” members, and thus the birth of the General Section. In 1956, the Academy’s Executive Committee approved the creation of the General Section; however, there was no activity or structure until 1968. John R. Hunt, the first appointed section chair, grew tired of the lack of structure and vision for the section. Through his guidance, he and several other members took the initiative and held the section’s first organizational meeting. This allowed the “general” members a forum to present papers related to their disciplines and allowed them an opportunity for promotion within the Academy, which was practically impossible otherwise.

The General Section continued to be where applicants were assigned if they did not fall within the scope of other established sections. Membership throughout the years grew from just 52 members in 1968 to more than 750 members in 2015, the third-largest section in the Academy. As science and technology advanced, the General Section fostered the growth and development of four additional sections within the Academy:  Physical Anthropology in 1973, Odontology in 1974, Engineering Sciences in 1981, and Digital & Multimedia Sciences in 2008. Each section has grown in membership and advanced their respective fields, thus transforming forensic sciences. The section continues to evaluate and welcome emerging disciplines while fostering the advancement and transformation of forensic sciences, both nationally and internationally, falling in line with the strategic direction being taken in the community today.

Since the release of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, the forensic science community has been poised for inevitable changes. Regardless of individual opinions, this report catapulted the forensic science community into discussions about the way ahead, but it did not result in immediate action. In 2014, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) established the Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB) and the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) charged with developing standards for forensic science practice. Each of the five Scientific Area Committees are comprised of discipline-specific subcommittees responsible for developing standards and guidelines for their respective disciplines. This strategic guidance and direction is paramount in securing the reliability and relevance of forensic sciences in future years. Without this transformation, we risk being left behind. By embracing change and adapting to the world around us, we solidify our resolve to continue advancing the field of forensic science.


1  History of the General Section 1956-1992