President’s Message — January 2018

Source:  Betty Layne DesPortes, JD, MS,
2017-18 President

The pre-registration deadline for the 70th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Seattle, WA, is January 24. Please register today; workshops and special sessions are filling up quickly.

The theme for the Seattle meeting is “Science Matters,” and the focus will be on broadening our horizons. This meeting is the final event addressing the three broad goals of my presidency:  research, diversity, and communications.

Research:  By emphasizing the mechanics of research, including funding, best practices, and collaboration, the annual meeting will focus on the integration of forensic science research into the broader scientific community. Unlike the discipline-specific meetings of our affiliates, the AAFS Annual Scientific Meeting offers a tremendous opportunity for cross-discipline collaboration. I encourage everyone to attend at least one presentation in each of our 11 disciplines to observe the great work being conducted by our colleagues and to gain new thoughts about your own methods and procedures.

Diversity:  We are promoting diversity in all forms, including diversity of people, places, backgrounds, and ideas. Our goal is to ensure that everyone feels welcome and empowered at the annual meeting. A special welcome to our international attendees:  we appreciate that immigration procedures can sometimes be burdensome, but we hope that you will enjoy the fellowship of the forensic science community as you expand your professional and scientific knowledge at the meeting.

Communication:  Forensic science is well known, but is not well understood. Instead of the public image of forensic science based on TV shows or other fictionalized portrayals, the annual meeting will showcase what we actually do in forensic science. Promoting our work ensures that the justice system better understands science-based evidence and the fact that science is a process of endless inquiry. There will be several media outlets at the meeting; please take the time to share your work and perspectives on the value of forensic science. More importantly, take what you learn at the meeting and approach your local educational institutions, legislators, and media when you get home to improve their understanding of forensic science.

Two sessions of the meeting that I would like to highlight are the Plenary Session and the Tuesday Evening Session. The Plenary Session Science Matters on Wednesday morning, open to all meeting attendees, hosts Itiel Dror, PhD, Rush D. Holt, PhD, and a special presentation by Rod J. Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General of the United States. DAG Rosenstein will speak on “The Department of Justice’s Commitment to Advancing Forensic Science.” Plenary Co-Chairs Nikolas P. Lemos and James Downs worked for many months planning this exciting and topical session.

For a different take on the same topics of research and communication, attend the more informal Tuesday Evening Session, Forensic Science in the Public Eye. The session – also open to all attendees – has the unofficial tagline:  “A reporter, an activist, and a producer walk into a bar to talk about forensic science.” Bring your own beverage and enjoy the session focusing on the media perception of forensic science and how that perception can be influenced to shape public policy. My personal thanks to the Program Co-Chairs Christine Funk, Lucy A. Davis, and Anjali A. Ranadive for putting together a diverse and entertaining session.

During this 70th anniversary of the Academy, please take the time to meet and talk with colleagues from other disciplines, other backgrounds, and other places. The sentiment expressed in the opening remarks of Rutherford B.H. Gradwohl, MD, at the first meeting in 1948 still guide the Academy today:

“To the end of coordination of all agencies and efforts, I wish to recommend to this group the formation of a central organization of a permanent nature, to meet annually. Its aims and purposes
will be to become a clearinghouse for new ideas and developments, to support reforms in legislatures and courts, to study and recommend new methods of jurisprudence.”

~ R.B.H. Gradwohl, Opening Remarks, 1948, St. Louis, MO