Friday, May 13, 2022

Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System - by M. Chris Fabricant

Cover image

Written by the Director of Strategic Litigation for the Innocence Project the aptly named Fabricant explains how fabricated science has been used to convict innocent people, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  

The cover image of the book which shows a dental mold biting into hundred dollar bills is an allusion to the junk science of bite mark evidence. Created by a brotherhood (they were initially all men) of dentists calling themselves "diplomates" (my, that sounds important!) of the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), they asserted themselves experts on bite marks without actually having done any scientific study on the forensics of bite marks on bodies.

These "experts" would testify (usually for money) in criminal rape, murder, and assault cases indicating that bite marks found on bodies could have only been left by a one specific person (usually the defendant in a trial).

It took over thirty years for this science to be debunked while innocent people were convicted and sent to jail. The author calls this "poor people science" because it is still used, along with other discredited forensics (including ballistics, fingerprint analysis, and hair microscopy) to convict those who do not have the means to hire a good defense attorney.

A few mentions of prison libraries gives this book a space on my blog, but I would have included it anyway since it is really a book about information literacy. It gave me a lot to consider regarding peer review, the gold standard of credible sources for undergraduates writing research papers. I help hundreds of such students every semester, many don't even understand what "peer review" means, they only know their professor told them to include such sources in their paper. The ABFO were peers who reviewed each other. They created their own body of experts without doing any studies, and their junk science is still being used today. 

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