Science News – September 6, 2013


Psychologists have found bias in forensic experts, a North Carolina city looks to privately contract DNA samples, and researchers reveal crime labs are incentivized by work that results in convictions. Here is the round up of news for the week:


Psychologists from the University of Virginia and Sam Houston State University found that paid forensic experts are

vulnerable to bias

. Their study reveals that forensic psychologists and psychiatrists, who believed that they were consulting on real cases, interpreted evidence differently depending on whether they thought they were being hired by defense attorneys versus the prosecution.


Even though the city of Greensboro, North Carolina, approved a contract in January to send DNA samples from theft crimes to a private lab for testing,

no evidence has been processed

. The private lab is determining how to proceed after the owner died around the same time that the contract was finalized. Currently, the state crime lab, which has a backlog of DNA evidence, only takes samples of DNA for violent crimes.


Researchers from Syracuse University and Fairleigh Dickinson University have released findings

that point to the criminal justice system incentivizing crime labs with payouts for convictions

. This practice creates a cognitive bias problem in the labs and can also remove any form of objectivity and potentially lead to wrongful convictions.


In Syria, a forensic medicine expert who heads the chemical weapons program’s medical and forensic science department

may have proof that chemical weapons were used in an attack in the northern province of Aleppo

. This example illustrates how forensic techniques are important to national security and in understanding chemical and biological attacks.

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