Forensics: Science Policies to Increase Confidence

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ACS Science & the Congress Project
and The American Statistical Association

The consistent accuracy of many forensic methods is lacking despite pop-culture-informed perceptions to the contrary. A 2009 National Academies report identified many methodologies that are insufficiently scientific including medical examiner or forensic anthropology approaches, fire investigation, and pattern recognitions such as fingerprint or toolmark analysis. Also, jurisdictions outside of major cities with significant research facilities are often under-equipped with the trained staff and/or infrastructure to render useful forensic evidence. This expert panel will discuss the following options: set research priorities for forensic standards, effectively train and certify corps of analysts, and best inform and educate justice system professionals on the proper use and presentation of forensic evidence to ensure consistency and fairness.

Video from September 26, 2012

Speaker Bios & Presentations

Anne-Marie Mazza, Ph.D., is Director of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law at the National Academies and served as study director for the 2009 NRC report, Strengthening Forensic Sciences in the United States: A Path Forward. Dr. Mazza has served as study director on range of other Academy reports involving issues of science and law including Review of the Scientific Approaches Used During the FBI’s Investigation of the 2001 Anthrax Letters (2011); Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing (2011); Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest (2010); Science and Security in a Post- 9/11 World (2007); Reaping the Benefits of Genomic and Proteomic Research: Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation, and Public Health (2005); and Intentional Human Dosing Studies for EPA Regulatory Purposes: Scientific and Ethical Issues (2004). Currently, she leads the Six Academies’ Dialogues on Synthetic Biology, a joint activity with the UK and Chinese Academies of Sciences and Engineering. In 1999-2000, Dr. Mazza divided her time between the National Academies and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), where she served as a Senior Policy Analyst. Dr. Mazza received a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the George Washington University.

Constantine Gatsonis, Ph.D., is Henry Ledyard Goddard University Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics at Brown University. He co-chaired the NAS Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community. Dr. Gatsonis is a leading authority on the evaluation of diagnostic and screening tests and has also worked extensively in medical technology assessment and health services and outcomes research. He is Network Statistician of the American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN) and has had senior statistician roles in many studies including the Digital Mammography Screening Trial (DMIST) and the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). Dr. Gatsonis has published extensively on statistical methods for the evaluation of diagnostic tests and biomarkers and has long-term involvement in the development of Bayesian statistical methods for problems in biomedical research. He is founding editor-in-chief of Health Services and Outcomes Research Methodology and associate editor of the Annals of Applied Statistics, Clinical Trials, and Academic Radiology. Dr. Gatsonis chairs the NAS Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics and is a member of the NAS Board of Mathematical Sciences and the Committee on National Statistics. He was educated at Princeton and Cornell and was elected a fellow of the American Statistical Association.

John Lentini, is one of a handful of people certified to conduct both fire scene investigations and fire debris analysis. He has personally conducted more than 2,000 fire scene inspections and has appeared as an expert witness on more than 200 occasions. Mr. Lentini is a frequent invited speaker on fire investigation science, and an active proponent of standards for fire and other forensic investigations. He is a member of the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Technical Committee on Fire Investigations, and has served three terms as chair of ASTM Committee E30 on Forensic Science. Mr. Lentini is now an independent consultant living in the Florida Keys and doing business as Scientific Fire Analysis. His book, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, was published by CRC Press in 2006, and the second edition is due out in October 2012. . Mr. Lentini’s website is

Amy Mundorff, Ph.D., received her B.A. from Syracuse University and her M.A. from California State University at Chico in 1999. From 1999-2004, Dr. Mundorff was the Forensic Anthropologist for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, the City of New York, where she analyzed forensic cases involving unidentified individuals and bone trauma. She also helped direct mortuary operations for several disasters, including the World Trade Center attacks, the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, and the Staten Island Ferry crash. In 2004, Dr. Mundorff left New York to pursue her Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Her doctoral research was a retrospective analysis of disaster victim identification from the World Trade Center focusing on techniques used to identify highly fragmented and commingled human remains. Dr. Mundorff, now on faculty at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, conducts recently DOJ-funded research initiated during her doctorate, geared towards DNA sampling for large-scale disaster victim identification projects and human rights investigations. She also sits on the Scientific Advisory Board to the Fundacion de Anthropologia Forense de Guatemala (FAFG) and is a member of the Anthropology Subgroup of the Forensic Pathology Working Group of the INTERPOL Standing Committee on Disaster Victim Identification.

Randall Murch, Ph.D. has been at Virginia Tech since December 2004, where he works on research, operational support and cooperative programs, including in microbial forensics, biosecurity, cooperative threat reduction and advanced forensic science. He teaches in three graduate programs and advises Ph.D. students in five programs. From 2002 - 2004, Dr. Murch was at the Institute for Defense Analyses, a leading Federally Funded Research and Development Center. From 1980 – 2002, he was a Special Agent, FBI. Dr. Murch served in three field offices where he performed investigative and technical support duties, and in the FBI Laboratory as a forensic practitioner, research scientist, department head and deputy director. During these last two assignments, he was responsible for forensic support to several major national and international terrorism investigations, and to the 1996 Olympics, and he created the national program in WMD forensics. While in the FBI, Dr. Murch was also assigned to its Technical Surveillance Program and was detailed to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He has published and presented extensively in forensic science, microbial forensics and other fields. Dr. Murch has also served on boards and committees at the National Academies, including for two studies on forensic science. His B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees are in the Life Sciences.

Related Information

American Statistical Association

National Academies

Brown University

Scientific Fire Analysis

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Virginia Tech

Federal Bureau of Investigation

National Institutes of Justice

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Congressional Research Service

Chemical & Engineering News (A Publication of the American Chemical Society)

WGBH Educational Foundation/Public Broadcasting Service