“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

“Taylor’s laboratory had spent the last year running all sorts of tests on the Profiler Plus system and the 310 Genetic Analyzer, he told Bartick. On numerous occasions, the results had been, at best, ambiguous.” -Weinberg 259

I find it very astounding to think that DNA tests that were being used to test people’s innocence or guilt in certain situations were not giving clear results. I think that when people’s lives are at stake, everything should be as blatantly clear as possible. This obviously ties in to the Innocence Project and its purpose of freeing wrongly convicted people, but it was from the other side: using DNA evidence to show that people were innocent. I think that it is a hard line to walk, especially because DNA evidence has the power to be so influential, so it is important that it be used ethically and carefully.

This also brings into question the nature of the court system and prosecution. Why were they so quick to accept the lab results given to them? I think it was because they were amazed by the infallibility of DNA. But as infallible as science is, it can be fallible when handled or interpreted incorrectly, either on purpose or unknowingly. I think that the best solution for this is to do all testing blind, but most importantly, make sure the technology is 100 percent accurate before it is used to convict someone of a crime. I think the end goal of the courts should be to find the person who committed the crime, not just person.

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

Is what you see what you get?

“In the forensic world, the people who are doing the interpretation are, in most cases, considered part of the prosecution team; they meet with the detectives, they know the particulars of the case, often they have strong expectations of what they are going to see…’I am a psychologist,’ Thompson says. ‘My research [says]…what you expect to see and want to see influences what you do see…” -Weinberg, 194

Since forensic scientists are working with the organic evidence and DNA of a case, they should be objective members of the prosecution team. They work directly with the only true links to a crime scene and should be examining the evidence without a personal agenda. However, since they are given all of the information of the case, and are usually hired by the defense or prosecutor to prove that particular side’s case, it becomes difficult to not become personally invested in the research.

William Thompson points out that what a person expects and wants to see will affect how they see what is in front of them. So if a scientist, believing that the accused is guilty, sees an ambiguous analysis or interpretation of evidence, it is possible that they will see a link to the crime. Weinberg gives the example of the scientist who found DNA that could only possibly match the suspect, but insisted that it matched because of there circumstances in which the investigators found the evidence.

This problematic form of scientific analysis poisons the justice system, and gives objective, true evidence the potential to be unreliable.

Is what you see what you get?