Research

CSI in the Real World

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Associate Professor Beth Bechky, an expert in organizational behavior, recently spent 18 months studying the impact of the intersection of science and law at a forensic laboratory. She presented her preliminary findings to a diverse group of scholars at a workshop on “Forensic Performances: Tracing Crime, Constructing Evidence” at UC Davis in October.

In discussing “DNA Envy, Objectivity and Forensic Science Work,” Bechky said that the convergence of science and law created workplace tensions that ultimately led to organizational change. She noted that the institution of law, with its courtrooms, lawyers and judges, influenced forensic presentations to appear more “scientific,” and explained how the presentation of DNA evidence changed to become more accessible and believable in the courtroom.

“When DNA testing first came on the scene as a viable source of material evidence in cases, it went through a vetting process in the courts that changed how DNA evidence would be presented,” explained Bechky. “These alterations had more to do with what is considered legally relevant than with the objective ‘truth’ of the scientific data.”

Over time, said Bechky, the practice of presenting DNA evidence in the courts gave the impression that the science was irrefutable, making DNA the standard to which other forensic subfields, such as narcotics and firearms, are held accountable.

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