As I look back at the past few months, there have been an unusual number of issues in forensic science which have garnered media attention including a series of articles on bitemark evidence, a study of FBI hair analysis cases disclosing a high proportion of errors, changes in the leadership of the Washington, DC, Department of Forensic Sciences as a result of DNA mixture interpretation, and errors in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) allele frequency database. Many seem alarmed and I have my own issues with some of the reports, but I believe that in general these can be considered healthy developments. Although perhaps painful, in large measure we are correcting or improving our practices. What does not kill you, makes you stronger! Like the 2009 National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) Report, collectively these various issues demand attention and provide grist and impetus for the advances in the forensic sciences that we have been seeking. Another way of saying this is that we should not let a serious crisis go to waste! The truth is that for years we have been working up to the many changes that are transforming our world, such as the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS), the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), and reform legislation calling for national standards, accreditation, certification, and more research. Although the 2009 NAS/NRC Report might have initiated these, the recent events can help them become reality.
Perhaps the most sweeping effort rocking our world is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) OSAC. It now appears that the Academy will proceed with plans to become a Standards Development Organization (SDO) and more specifically an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards Developer (ASD) that can promulgate American National Standards. The idea is that we can become an option for the NIST OSAC subcommittees to choose, if they so desire. Currently, the primary choices appear to be the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the American Dental Association (ADA), and the NIST internal canvass process; we would become a fourth option. We are hoping to secure funding that would allow us to distribute standards free of charge. Of course, the OSAC subcommittees are already interested in advancing some existing standards and we will want to get up and running as soon as possible. Lucy Davis is chairing a committee that is wrestling with issues for us to accomplish this, but we understand that hiring expert staff will be a critical element of our success. I see this as strategic for our organization.
The AAFS Humanitarian and Human Rights Resource Center continues to gather momentum under the direction of AAFS Past President Douglas Ubelaker. The Center seeks to utilize the assets of the AAFS to promote the application of contemporary forensic science and forensic medicine principles to global humanitarian and/or human rights projects requiring special forensic assistance. The Center has four committees: (1) Publications and Documents chaired by Marilyn Huestis (Toxicology); (2) Laboratory and Analysis Protocols chaired by Sabra Botch-Jones (Toxicology); (3) Education chaired by Dawn Mulhern (Anthropology); and, (4) Equipment chaired by Ronald Singer (Criminalistics).
The International Affairs Committee (IAF), chaired by Zeno Geradts, will be sending out a poll to the international membership to determine if they would prefer to continue with the Annual Breakfast on Wednesday mornings or substitute an International Reception on Monday evening. Cost factors along with meeting space have been coordinated with AAFS staff.
The Ethics Review Committee, chaired by John Gerns, has been diligently at work to develop a clearer and more transparent process of how the Ethics Committee operates to include definitions of various sanctions associated with violations of AAFS Ethics Standards. Its findings and recommendations will be discussed at the mid-year Executive Committee meeting for presentation to the Board of Directors.
In May, President Victor Weedn and President-Elect John Gerns attended the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP) meeting in Washington, DC. The CSSP is a unique organization representing the breadth of science and engineering research disciplines through its member societies and federations. CSSP member societies are represented by their presidents, president-elects, and recent past presidents of leading scientific societies and federations whose combined membership is more than one million. We both found it an invaluable experience that greatly enhanced our knowledge and understanding of some of the fantastic research and development occurring across the wide spectrum of science.
The AAFS International Educational Outreach Program (IEOP) to Croatia and the AAFS panel at the 9th ISABS Conference on Forensic and Anthropologic Genetics is quickly approaching. Every year the president of the Academy leads a delegation somewhere in the world; John Gerns will take us to New Zealand next year. The American Bar Association 6th Annual Prescription for Criminal Justice Forensics is also taking place. I hope to report on these activities in the next newsletter.
In my prior addresses, I have failed to mention a special session of the last annual meeting in Orlando. Jamie Downs, Carla Noziglia, Anjali Ranadive, and Jennifer Downs (Jamie’s daughter) gave an evening session entitled “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” We discussed Knowledge, Investigation, Sharing, and Spirit (ethics). For more information on the special session, please see the AAFS News Feed article, Warren-Young Scholarship & KISS.
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