This Week in Forensic Science

No one has hours to scour the papers to keep up with the latest news, so we’ve curated the top news stories in the field of Forensic Science for this week. Here’s what you need to know to get out the door!




When Ancient DNA Gets Politicized (Smithsonian – 7/12/2019)

  • What responsibility do archaeologists have when their research about prehistoric finds is appropriated to make 21st-century arguments about ethnicity?


Mystery of Young Girl’s Vatican Disappearance 36 Years Ago Takes a New Twist (Los Angeles Times – 7/13/2019)

  • The mystery of the 1983 disappearance of the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee took yet another twist Saturday following excavations this week at a Vatican City cemetery. The Vatican said it had discovered two sets of bones under a stone slab that will be formally opened next week.


Can Criminal Suspects be Identified Just by the Sound of Their Voice? (The Conversation – 7/14/2019)

  • Multiple studies have warned about the reliability of voice evidence in criminal cases. For example, one recent study concluded that the way such evidence is used in trials is inconsistent with scientific research and needs to be revised.

    Other studies have found that while there are a number of legal requirements around the use of eyewitness testimonies in trials, voice identification testimony has not been sufficiently scrutinised.


A New Look at the Gibraltar Neanderthals (Natural History Museum – 7/15/2019)

  • Modern DNA sequencing techniques are allowing us to discover more about some iconic Neanderthal skulls than ever before.


Traces of Two Unknown Archaic Human Species Turn Up in Modern DNA (New Atlas – 7/15/2019)

    • The human genome can tell us where we’ve come from, and it’s hiding more than a few surprises. Now researchers from the University of Adelaide have found evidence of two unknown, archaic human species in modern DNA.


Human DNA Standard – A Q&A With NIST’s Becky Steffen (NIST – 7/16/2019)

  • To help crime labs ensure that their DNA profiling is accurate, NIST produces a human DNA standard. Becky Steffen, a forensic DNA scientist at NIST, has been working to prepare the latest version of this standard, which was released last week. In this Q&A, Steffen describes the standard and explains why it’s so important.


How Much Should Juries Rely on Expert Testimony? (The Washington Post – 7/16/2019)

  • Many different fields of forensics have come under attack in recent years, including blood-spatter analysis, hair-fiber analysis, ballistics testing and fingerprint analysis. Even outside of forensics, there has long been research showing that eyewitness testimony is far less reliable than most people think, and that juries give it far too much consideration. A skeptic might wonder: What, other than single-source DNA testing, can be used in a criminal trial?



An Epidemic of Disbelief (The Atlantic – August 2019 Issue)

  • What new research reveals about sexual predators, and why police fail to catch them



Purdue Makes the Case for Forensic Entomology (Pest Control Technology – 7/16/2019)

  • Purdue University is offering the first formal area of concentration in forensic entomology ever worldwide, according to forensic sciences program director Trevor Stamper.



South West Forensic Services: Hundreds of Fingerprints Waiting to be Analysed (BBC News – 7/16/2019)

  • Hundreds of fingerprints are waiting to be analysed by experts because of “deeply concerning” forensic delays.



‘A New Beginning’: Man Convicted of Murder in the ’90s Exonerated Thanks to Genetic Genealogy (ABC News – 7/17/2019)

  • On Wednesday, after decades of proclaiming his innocence and claiming his confession was coerced, Tapp was finally exonerated due to the novel DNA technique of genetic genealogy, which was used to find identify a new suspect in Dodge’s murder.



A New Solution to Countering Bad Science in Forensics (The University of Sydney – 7/17/2019)

  • Led by a University of Sydney law and psychology expert, an international group of researchers are calling for forensic science to become more open in the interests of justice.



DNA Evidence Challenges Conviction of Man Who Served 26 Years for Queens Murder (New York Daily News – 7/17/2019)

  • Michael Robinson’s hopes of putting on an NYPD uniform were destroyed in 1993 when he was convicted of the murder of his estranged wife. On Wednesday, after serving 26 years for the killing he swears he didn’t commit, he faces a critical hearing in Queens Supreme Court on DNA evidence that may clear his name.



LAPD Officer Charged with Rape After ‘Cold’ DNA Match, Prosecutors Say (Los Angeles Times – 7/17/2019)

  • The charges stem from a Nov. 1 report of a sexual assault involving an acquaintance at Rodriguez’s home. The investigation led to the discovery of a second sexual assault in August 2015, in which officials say Rodriguez also was involved. Prosecutors say that attack occurred under similar conditions. Both incidents occurred while Rodriguez was off-duty, police say .

    Rodriguez was identified through a combined DNA index system, or a “cold hit” DNA match, authorities said.



DNA from Cigarette Butts Links Man to 12-Year-Old’s Kidnapping, Sexual Assault: Prosecutors (FOX News – 7/17/2019)

  • Connecticut man was arrested Wednesday in connection with the May kidnapping and sexual assault of a Massachusetts 12-year-old after investigators used DNA from discarded cigarette butts to tie him to the case, prosecutors said.



‘It’s Essentially Junk:’ $7.5M Bite Mark Settlement Underscores National Call for Better Forensic Evidence (FOX 6 Now – 7/17/2019)

  • He spent 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Now, a Milwaukee man is finally getting justice for a conviction based on flawed evidence. His long-awaited day in court came amid a national effort to put forensic science on trial.



Fertility Doc Told to Provide DNA Sample for Paternity Test (The Washington Post – 7/18/2019)

  • A judge says a Vermont fertility doctor accused of using his own sperm to impregnate a patient must turn over a sample of his DNA for paternity testing.



Forensic Experts Call for One-Stop Sexual Assault Test Centres (The Pioneer – 7/18/2019)

  • Forensic experts have called for country-wide implementation of one-stop sexual assault examination, care, and research centres enabled with state-of-the-art DNA collection and testing facilities.