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Common Sense Changes Can Fix the Cracks in Forensic Science’s Foundation

by Jacob Barrett

There is no universal requirementin forensic science to be an accredited laboratory, and instead of accrediting an entire lab, many accreditation vendors allow labs to choose which sections to accredit, e.g., just DNA or firearms. That is a problem, says Brian Gestring, forensic scientist and consultant.

Gestring gave a presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (“AAFS”) conference that posed aninteresting question: “We solve mysteries for a living, [so] why are we so bad at figuring out our own?”

Gestringarguedtoavoid embarrassing and credibility-damagingheadlineslike“forensiclabunderinvestigation,”forensicscienceneedstouserootcauseanalysissimilartothatemployedbycompanieslikeToyotaMotorCorporation.


Toyota implemented the “5 Why” system in 1958, which is based on the idea that if you keep asking why something is wrong you will get to the root cause analysis. “The root of the problem is fundamentally different than what we see as the symptoms,” said Gestring.

Asitstands,therearenomechanismsforblame-freereporting. Whoever discoverstheproblemistheonewhoultimatelygetsblamed,whichdiscouragesreporting.

Gestring says important changes include forensic providers to train all scientific staff on root causeprocesses and have the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (“FEPAC”) and otheracademic programs add root cause to their core curriculum for the next generation of scientists.

Gestring also suggests using a consequence-free reporting system modeled after the successful Aviation Safety Action Program.

“But,themosteffectivewaytoprovidechangeonthisissuewould beforthefederalgovernmenttonotprovide fundingtoanyforensicoperationthatdoesnotincorporate arootcauseprocessintotheiroperations.”saidGestring.

“We can take these steps ourselves, or we can wait to be told to do it,” Gestring said. “What I know for sure is if we don’t do anything, the same mistakes will keep happening and the cracks in our foundation will become more robust and eventually the system will fail.”

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