President’s Message—April 2019

Source: Zeno J. Geradts, PhD, 2019-20 President

2020 AAFS Annual Meeting Theme: “Crossing Borders”

I am honored to be elected President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. My first annual meeting was in 1996 in New York when I was invited to speak at a workshop. I was overwhelmed by the different topics and was attracted to the AAFS as there were so many friendly colleagues. It was an excellent network with very good discussions and presentations. I applied for membership in the (then) Engineering Sciences Section; after being promoted to Fellow, I was elected as Section Chair in 2005. We then started the Digital & Multimedia Sciences Section with Carrie Whitcomb and David Baker as officers, and I served as Chair in 2009. This year, we celebrate 10 years of the Digital & Multimedia Sciences Section. Since I am an international member of the AAFS who is living in Belgium and working in the Netherlands, I chose the theme “Crossing Borders.”

When I travel to the United States from Europe, I cross a border. However, in the Netherlands there are other borders such as Belgium and Germany, with different languages and laws. Typical refugee problems, as we have seen from Syria, influenced much effort by law enforcement; also, due to terrorism threats, better border protection was requested, which included many biometric solutions. Forensic science crosses borders; evidence in one country should have the same findings in another country. Standards contribute to this, as we can see, for example, for ISO 17025 and 17020, to which many laboratories worldwide adhere. It is good to see that we have several collaborations internationally, such as “AAFS Association Academies” in Croatia and Brazil, and I hope this will be expanded in the coming years.

If we investigate cybercrime and digital traces, we see that the world is much smaller since much is connected by the internet to manufacturers or other things. Cloud systems are available in different jurisdictions and countries and this sometimes makes it more complicated to receive evidence, as well as to track all the different cyber attacks that are often international.

The theme “Crossing Borders” was chosen with my colleagues at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). We can see “Crossing Borders” in forensic science in different versions. For the year 2020, six words starting with the letters “IN” are included in the theme: International, since this is linked to crossing borders. Crossing Borders on another level is to see more of different areas and work more Interdisciplinarily. We see that the combination of different fields, such as criminalistics and artificial Intelligence, may provide new opportunities.

Inclusiveness is also one of those topics that is addressed very well by the AAFS, which also looks to diversity within the organization. We should include different opinions on a scientific basis, keeping in mind Integrity and Independence. Also, I value our members very much, and I believe we should be inclusive regarding different opinions; we should foster our international members, young, old, and all members, maintaining high standards of integrity in forensic science as well as being respectful to each other even if opinions are diverting very much.

Last but not least, “Crossing Borders” is finding new solutions that are often Interdisciplinary, combining different fields, and finding new methods to solutions—one might think of artificial Intelligence as well as forensic intelligence. Currently, we see much progress in artificial intelligence, as computing power is faster and cheaper. For instance, automated facial comparison systems, according to the latest National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) vendor test of 2018, provide a much better performance and in many cases outperform humans in this regard. The widespread use of artificial neural networks appears to improve many automated methods with deep learning. Artificial intelligence should be used for assisting forensic scientists, and they should also be able to explain what an algorithm did when used as evidence in court.

When writing this article, I realized that most words I selected started with the letters I and N: International, Integrity, Inclusiveness, Intelligence, and Interdisciplinary are also the same in Dutch, so historically we can see many connections between the languages and often words are copied from other languages; however, one should be careful, since words may have a somewhat different meaning in different languages or even regions.

Many of the topics I mentioned are addressed within the American Academy of Forensic Sciences objectives. Thus, I hope to promote professionalism, integrity, competency, education, foster research, improve practice, and encourage collaboration in the forensic sciences during my year as President of the AAFS.