Home // Speaker Feature // Mixture Interpretation in DNA Forensics – An Interview with Greg Hampikian
Apr 17 2019
Mixture Interpretation in DNA Forensics – An Interview with Greg Hampikian
Greg Hampikian, Executive Director of the Idaho Innocence Project, discusses concerns he has with current mixture interpretation procedures, changes he’d like to see for the future, and thoughts on how to improve forensic science.
Laura: Hi, we’re here at ISHI 29, and we’re talking with Greg Hampikian. Greg, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background?
Greg: I’m a biologist. I got a PhD in genetics and a masters and BS in biology. About 1999 or so, I’d already had my PhD for 10 years, I got working in forensics, and enjoy that that’s a large component in my laboratory, and I also consult now, and have some patents. But, we also do things like cancer drug discovery, and discovering new species of ciliates, these single-celled organisms that a colleague in my lab gets to name when he finds.
Laura: That’s fun!
Greg: Well, it contrasts with these tragedies, with all this crime stuff. And then, of course, I do Idaho Innocence Project work, so it’s people in prison, so it’s nice to get back to nature, and deal with those things too.
Laura: Absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about some of things you’ve worked on. I know you were involved in a study in 2011, mixture interpretation, and that is still something that is in the headlines.
Greg: Yeah, it’s very dear to me. It was a piece in the New York Times last week. What happened was, I got into this, because I was having trouble interpreting mixtures. So, I came to ISHI, and I go to American Academy, and I took a course with the director of the Washington Lab; all these places, and it seemed to me there was a great variety of ways to do this. And that’s nice, to interpret mixtures. You do want a great… I don’t want one way, right? I want several different ways. But when you did them different ways, you got different answers. And that troubled me.
Again, it’s good to have different ways; I don’t want to see just one way. I’m sorry to see that people think that this problem’s just going to be solved (mixture interpretation) by just having one way to do it. That’s not necessarily true. We want lots of ways that all agree. So, if you take a pregnancy test from one company, or you take a pregnancy test from your local pharmacy, they both tell you the same thing; you’re pregnant or you’re not pregnant. Or, you’re included in a DNA mixture or you’re not. And what I found out is that’s not what’s going on.
A writer from New Scientist (or an editor) said that I should talk to an expert in cognitive bias, something that I don’t know a whole lot about. And he had already done fingerprints, and some other things, and done great work. And he finally talked to me and said, “Well do you have a DNA example I could try this on?” And I was like, I have a real case, where I think a mistake has been made. Kerry Robinson in Georgia. He’s in prison. He’s written me, and I’ve been working on it for several years. And he said, “Well, why don’t we do study?” Take that data and bring it to one lab and have analysts look at it and see if they agree or disagree.
Now, what happens is sometimes, that people will talk, like you and me. Humans love to agree. We’ll find something we agree on, and celebrate it, and scientists are the same way. We don’t like controversy; nobody really does. So, we didn’t let people talk to one another. We gave it to 17 analysts at one laboratory, all of them proficient (proficiency tested), at an accredited lab, all of them trained the same way. Gave them DNA data and said, “Is this suspect included, excluded, or it’s an inconclusive set of data?” Three choices. We got all three answers. This is someone’s life, right? And it’s also someone who certainly does not want to have, as a further insult, the wrong person in prison. So, not only that, but only one of the 17 analysts in our test agreed with the original analyst at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who implicated Kerry Robinson.
That evidence was the only thing that allowed another man, a co-conspirator who admitted to rapping a woman and to shooting people, to say, “Yeah, Kerry was with me, and he did it too.” That co-conspirator is out of prison, because he shared information. Kerry, who said, “I’m innocent. I had nothing to do with this,” is still in prison. So, you see how a slight mistake, that is going from “I’m not so sure” to “yes, I can make a conclusion” can have such a drastic effect. And I was finding that in my own work. So, I was happy we were able to publish what I thought I had seen. I had no idea, I didn’t know it would turn out that weird; 17 analysts, only one agrees with the original findings.
So, I got excited about this. John Butler, who had been doing these intra-laboratory studies for a long time, he and I talked, and I said my concerns and that I’d like to see some more complicated questions asked in these mixture studies, and I’d like to see scenarios given, because many times (almost all the time), the lab knows what the scenario is; who the victim is, if they’re related, etc. Most of the time they see police reports. So, they have context, and I learned that context is what drives our bias.
I don’t think John took my advice. I think he’s a really brilliant scientist, and he thought, “Yeah, let’s just make it a little bit trickier.” So he did, and the latest iteration of his mixture study is MIX13, and that brings us to the piece in the New York Times last week. I was thrilled when I saw MIX13, and saw what he was giving analysts, I was like, “this is real.” These are the cases that I’m talking about. It’s difficult, and what Butler and Coble (at that time), what the both said was, and they’d show this slide, the point of this question, this test, is to see how many labs are going to say, “this is too difficult. I’m not going to answer it”, (which, you know, is what most of my students would do) and how many would give an answer, and how many of those would be right or wrong.
And, what they found was that 70% of the labs gave the wrong answer. Didn’t say, “I can’t do this, it’s too complicated.” Didn’t say, “I can’t tell if you’re pregnant or not.” Said, “Yes, definitely, we have an answer,” and gave a statistic for it. That’s just so telling, and so important for everybody to know. For jurors to know, for the accused to know, for prosecutors to know, for defense lawyers to know, for scientists to know. I didn’t know it would turn out that way. 70% of labs from a National Institute of Standards and Technology study get it wrong in mixtures, falsely include somebody.
Now, ours was a real case. And some people would say, “that’s better”, but in a real case, you can’t know the answer. You weren’t there. In a controlled study, you know the answer. I thought this should be a major headline right away to tell people this is dangerous. There are, of course, innocent people who are being convicted this way. When 70% of the 105 American and 3 Canadian labs get it wrong. So, I was very disappointed when the paper finally came out. In fact, it didn’t come out for 5 years, and I bugged John, and we had a confrontation publicly at a meeting (well I said, “Why aren’t you publishing this? If it were train wrecks or airbags or contaminated peanut butter, you would publish.”)
And, after that, they did publish. The authors published, but I feel that the paper’s so full of disclaimers, saying “It’s only these particular cases. No generalizations can be made.” And then this very bizarre warning that, because we have an adversarial legal system, these shouldn’t be used to imply that other cases are wrong. It’s like, why do the study, if you cannot use the conclusion? In fact, the conclusion begins with the disclaimer in John’s paper.
So, I was very disappointed. You know, John’s a fine scientist, and a wonderful person. Better scientist than I am. I think this is a mistake. It may be due to relationships with labs, I don’t know, but how could you possibly miss the point of that? So, we’re going to have a round-table discussion, and John and I have emailed each other, and I’ve great respect for him. This is my one beef with John Butler, but I think it is that important that I wrote a piece for the New York Times about it, because I thought, “well, if they’re going to hide behind a bunch of disclaimers, somebody’s got to say, ‘No this is real. This is a really good study.’”
Laura: Well, it does bring a lot of questions to light, and I think the next natural question is “where do you go from there?” Where do you think we go from there?
Greg: Oh, and I think John and I agree on, well we agree on (in the future) where to go. I think that labs have an obligation, because these people are still in prison, to go back and correct, or check, their results, in inconclusive cases, and in cases where it was close, or wherever there is a request by a prisoner, because you can do that now with probabilistic genotyping. It’s a program, there are several available, I used one in my grant, and that same one was one that someone got the problem right with in John Butler’s study.
So, there are ways now, without doing any new wet lab work, no test tubes, no DNA. You just take the data, and you can check your work. And that’s been done. Mark Perlin and the Virginia… Mark Perlin owns one of these software companies, and they looked back at cases, I can’t remember how many of them. And that’s what got me started with this. I saw that they were able to correct inconclusive results, and in one case, an inclusion (where they said the person was included), they corrected and said that he’s excluded. When they publish that paper, and I saw it, I thought, “Well there may be a solution here,” as well as a problem.
Laura: Which is wonderful, if that’s what that leads to.
Greg: Yes, but I think there is a danger that human beings do not want to look at mistakes that they’ve made. I’m one of them, and I think there’s going to have to be strong leadership and encouragement. That’s not something that I can do. I can bring to light the problem publicly, but it’s going to be laboratory directors, politicians, and judges who are going to say, “This has to be done, because in the interest of justice it’s not that big of deal.” Is every case wrong? Of course not. DNA’s a good field, but these mixture cases. In the only two studies where it’s been done. Mine, where 1 in 17 agrees with the original analysis, and John Butler’s where 70% of the accredited crime labs got it wrong. I think we’ve got a big problem, and I have one case, Kerry Robinson, that was the original case that got me interested in this, that we expect results very soon. And I hope to use those results, depending on what they are.
But, we’ve also, we got a grant through the Department of Justice, and I want to give all the disclaimers, we don’t have all the prepared forms, but they’re not endorsing anything that I’m saying, these are my opinions, but we’ve used that money for the express purpose of looking at old cases with probabilistic genotyping (TrueAllele is the program we use by CyberGenetics), and we have overturned five convictions now in an year and a half. One of them was before the grant, but in any case, these are cases where there was an inconclusive result with DNA, and we’re able to look at the data again, and get a conclusive result (and by the way, the labs agree with us – the analysts who did the original work agree with us). Or, where there was, in one case, in Kerry’s case, where I think a mistake was actually made with an inclusion, that should have been an exclusion. So, we’ll see, but the promising part is, there’s a way to correct this, and these people are not dead. This is not history.
These are men and women who are writing people like me from prison, saying, “It’s not my DNA.” Are they all telling the truth? No. How do I know this? Because I’ve tested them. I’ll tell you that probably a third of the time, when we get down to DNA testing, and I think most of the Innocence groups would agree with me, about a third of the time, it gives evidence confirming guilt. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re guilty. There could be contamination, etc., but it confirms guilt and we drop the case. So, yes, prisoners lie. Scientists lie. Our mothers and fathers lie. I’ve seen the DNA. We’re all the same. The reason why scientists can publish about human behavior is that the chromosomes and the culture makes us a certain way. We’re all susceptible to these things. What forensic science could use is outside eyes, outside of forensic science.
Forensic science grew up inside of law enforcement. Law enforcement, and to use John Butler’s word, the adversarial system, is one side of an issue, and when we’ve gotten experts from outside, National Academy of Science’s 2009 report, they said, “Get the labs away from the police.” Right? That is obvious. The other report was the PCAST report, when Obama was president, the report was on his desk, and that was done by outside scientists only, and you need outsiders. If you want to check on errors, bring in the Amazing Randy. Bring in the magician. Bring somebody who can look at data and not want to defend their friends or their own lab, in my case, or something like that. So, that’s what I’m learning.
And I’m saying I’m as guilty as the next person. I must be, because it’s human nature. It’s not prosecutors or FBI or defense lawyers or prisoners. It’s human nature.
Laura: Right, it’s not an us and them, it’s just a natural occurrence that you have to build in checks for.
Greg: Yes, and every group thinks that they don’t need them. I go to the Innocence Network meetings, and they don’t want me to wear their t-shirts sometimes either, because I say the same things to them. “How do you know? Why do you say the other side is bad?” They’re the same as us. Everybody goes to work, tries to do an honest day’s work. All of us cut corners sometimes. We regret it, hopefully. There are C students in every field and there are A students in every field. So, I just want to see us do the right thing by the victims, the accused, even the convicted, if they’re claiming their innocence. Let’s check, because I can tell you that I have two dozen friends who were prisoners. Some of them served time on death row, and they’re free, because DNA proved their innocence. So, mistakes are made, even in death penalty cases, which you just think should be done so carefully, but we’ve shown there are plenty of people who’ve been convicted that have been freed.
Laura: I’m sure all of those cases stand out to you because of their nature but are there one or two that really….
Greg: You know it’s always the one you have; it’s the baby in your arms. It’s the puppy. So, the one that’s burning right now… I have three or four that are coming to a conclusion in the probabilistic genotyping grant, but Kerry Robinson’s been with me the longest, and he was… I’ve done everything I can. I looked at the data, and I thought he was excluded. I sent it to one of my friends at a crime lab. I said, “Look, no body has any money. I’m working for free. Take a look, tell me what you think.” He said, “he’s excluded.” That wasn’t enough. We couldn’t get back to court. Then we went to FOX News Atlanta, they did a story on it. They sampled four of the reporters at my suggestion. We did their DNA. All of them were included. One of them more included than Kerry. It was a female intern. Kerry’s African American. She’s a white woman in her 20’s. That didn’t get anywhere. We had a hearing. That didn’t get anywhere. Then we did the test at another crime lab with the 17 analysts. Published it in a peer reviewed journal with one of the leaders in the field; got nowhere, even though The Economist picked up on it, New Scientist picked up on it. So, then I waited, and waited, and waited. Met Mark Perlin, who started TrueAllele, and I didn’t like his work. I didn’t understand it. He’s like, “read the paper.” We almost, you know with academics, throw a pencil, come to blows. But Mark and I just didn’t hit it off, and he said, “read the papers.” And he gave me a stack of papers, and I went home and read them, and I thought, “Oh my God. This is an actual solution.” It’s not going to be perfect. There will be errors. Mark, me, we’ll all be gone and someone will find the errors we made. I know that John Butler and others agree, that Mike Coble agrees, that probabilistic genotyping is one way forward. There will still be problems, though. I don’t want anybody to be fooled that….
Laura: No, and even being an outsider to the industry, but just watching over the last 10 years, or even less, everything changes. It’s really growing, it’s building. You learn something new every time you look through something.
Greg: Yeah, it’s really exciting to come out here, especially the number of young people who have posters. Poster sessions are my favorite. You get to walk around and talk to people who have such great ideas.
Laura: Along those lines, what do you tell your students? What advice do you give them? I heard you have an interesting business card game, so I just heard that…
Greg: Yeah, end of the night, we compare how many business cards you get, and I ask them to tell me a little something about each of these people. And I do it too, because we’re a social species. It turns out that you don’t work in a cave. You know, very few of us are Isaac Newton or Einstein. Most of us are people who need social interaction. I’m very much a social thinker. I enjoy debate. I know that I’m not right all of the time. In fact, at home, if we have to guess, and in the lab too, if you think you remember a lyric to a song, we ask, “Well, how sure are you?” And we check, and what I’m seeing is I have to be 98% sure to have a 70% chance of being right. These are the things, when I think I know something… The human mind is very forgetful.
Laura: It’s pretty amazing, right? When you really look at it that way.
Greg: I try to put data with just about everything in my life, and what it tells me is that I’m average. I’m really not a superior being. I’m an aggressive guesser, but not woefully aggressive, and I’m accurate, but my accuracy is no better than anyone else in the lab or at home when I’m guessing.
Laura: You know, for some of our viewers, once we put this online, that don’t have the technical background, is there an easier way to explain mixture interpretation. When they’re reading these articles that are published in the New York Times, what they’re trying to say, and why it’s a problem?
Greg: Well, can I promote something that I don’t make any money off of? I did a TEDx talk, where I explained mixtures pretty well. The way I like to say it (and I did this one time for a prosecutor), he really wasn’t understanding what I was explaining, and I said, “A mixture of DNA… We’re going to take the letters of your name in scrabble tiles and from my name. Now we have a mixture. And let’s see what we can pull out from these two names.” And we had a list that’s like Ginger, Marianne, Mr. Howl, you know, everyone from Gilligan’s Island was there, Galilee Galileo, we just couldn’t believe it. We had like 50 famous names. And I showed that in this TEDx talk, and that’s what it is. When you make a mixture, you include, you put in two people, you’re going to have thousands perhaps, and that’s very hard for us to wrap our minds around.
So, for example, if I say, “I have your DNA on this pen that was used in a murder.” And you say, “What do you mean you have my DNA?” “Well, you’re not excluded.” I always tell my students if you say match, you have to say statistics. “So, you’re a match.” And you say, “Statistic”. And I’d say, “Well, it’s 1 in 100,000 people are also included.” Now, even something like that, it sounds like it has to be you, but we have overturned convictions that were at that level, and showed they were just coincidence. And when you think about it, if there’s 1 in 1,000 people that match it, and there’s 40,000 people in this area, in this town, that means there’s 40 people who match it. And that’s one way to think about it. Now, if there’s a lot of evidence about you, that’s a very important thing to say; you’re a match. But if that’s the only thing…
Another way to think about it is, of the 40 people who match, 39 probably didn’t give DNA to this. So, there’s always a couple of ways to see it. One of the big findings of John Butler’s (and co-authors’) MIX13 study is that when you look at those stats, and those stats are used as we’re using them, to tell a jury, could this be a coincidence? One of the big findings was, with these stats, even when you’re using the same method by name, you know random match probability or combined probability inclusion, vary over 13 orders of magnitude. And, as I say in the New York Times piece, that is roughly the same as the difference between soda change and the US Gross Domestic Product. So, what are you going to do with a stat variation like that? It is useful, but you better give the range, and you better show why there’s a range. What juries usually here is there’s one stat. And when a jury hears one statistic… if you tell me something is 1,000 times more likely than something else, it’s probably true. But we know that when we work likelihood ratios like that with the prosecution hypothesis, defense hypothesis, even if its 100 to 1, we say it’s probably inconclusive. Certainly at 10 to 1. And that’s because we know that there are these coincidences. So, when it’s a cold case, and it’s just DNA, those statistics become extremely important. When it’s just DNA and maybe a co-conspirator saying something… Again, when there’s lot of evidence, then it becomes a corroborating piece of evidence and it’s important, but those statistics, when I saw how much they varied, that was another thing.
I like to say, if you go to court and the judge says, “Bring me two receipts.” And if one of them says there’s $30 of damage to your bumper and the other one says there are $3,000,000,000,000 damage, do you just cut in half? Give them $150,000,000,000? What do those statistics mean if they can be calculated in so many different ways?
Laura: How do you educate a juror? What do you do if someone’s testifying on a complex analysis, what would you say to them?
Greg: I like to bring in a PowerPoint slideshow when I can, and that’s up to the lawyers on both sides, but I just think juries love this. They want to know. They know how important it is. I can’t believe how attentive my jurors are and states where they can ask questions, they ask great questions. So, I think going in with an educational slideshow… And, as a teacher, I have the advantage of that’s what I do for a living – you know, it’s like ask a clown to juggle. I think that some experts are not prepared to do that well, to be honest, from what I’ve seen. But, I think that a lot of them do a good job. But sometimes, I’ve been in court where they just start out with numbers.
Laura: Yeah, sometimes people can just glaze over and it’s a lot to take in.
Greg: They do, and they’re trying their best. So, I think education is a big part of it, and I’ve had the opportunity to train some judges in Israel recently, this summer. I’m going to Montana to work with judges as well. I think all the different layers need that. We keep our labs open to everybody. We’ve trained the sheriffs, and the attorneys, and we’ve trained high school kids. I had preschool kids in once.
Laura: Well I do like the way that this industry seems very collaborative to me, and working together in the service of justice.
Greg: Well, it’s both. It’s human nature. It’s collaborative, but it suffers from all the same biases cancer research does, or stock brokers. We’re not special just because we wear lab coats, even if they’re white. We’re the good guys in white coats is just not true. I like to tell the people who work in labs, “I know you’re careful, but would you want the sloppiest person in your lab using these techniques on your brother or your sister?”
Laura: Nobody wants to go to the doctor who got a C.
Greg: Exactly, and that’s why we need systems level corrections. So, can I tell you some of the corrections that I’d love to see?
Greg: I’ll tell you about that tomorrow in my talk. It used to be, that there was a rule in a lot of labs, and it’s still there, that you do all of the evidence first, right? The pen that killed somebody. You get it all the way to paper, results, before you bring in a sample of a suspect’s DNA into a lab. Now why is that? As we’ve got more and more sensitive, we can detect now single molecules, right? What’s a molecule? It’s very small. There could be a million of them here, and I wouldn’t see them. So that simple rule, and I’ll show a picture that I took tomorrow, it’s from a bathroom in Idaho that says, “Employees must wash their hands after using the restroom.” That simple rule would avoid a lot of the problems that I see when I come to court, and I get paid to be a consultant sometimes, and that’s one of the things that I have to correct. Like, that would wipe out a lot of the times that I have to show up in court. Just do all evidence first. The other thing is go back and look at these probabilistic genotyping, and final thing is anything that is subjective, where the analyst is saying, “I think that’s blue,” (because we have things like a pregnancy test that detect semen, they detect blood, they detect saliva; it’s called serology), any time that you have something that is subjective, take a picture of it and include it in your notes. I can’t believe they’ll just say, “weak positive for semen” on these little tests that give you a little colored line. I got a parking ticket in Boise, Idaho; they sent me a photo. I was thinking I could maybe dispute it, but there’s a picture, and I go to court sometimes, and they say, “Oh yeah, there was semen in that.” And I go, “Where’s the photo?” “Oh, we didn’t take a photo.” I’m like, “Well, do you have microscopes?” “Yeah, we saw a sperm cell.” “You saw a sperm cell? Where’s the photo?” And that’s just sloppy.
Laura: So, sometimes all it takes is a little fix to that procedure?
Greg: I would say, I think those are the things; do all the evidence before you do anybody’s reference sample, which the best labs still do it that way – I was sad to see the FBI not doing it that way recently, go back and look at your old mixture cases with probabilistic genotyping, and then take pictures of everything. There’s plenty of other small recommendations. I think you should still provide statistics in several different ways so you can show people there’s a variety of numbers here, and the recommendations are coming down now from SWGDAM, but anytime there’s disagreement in the lab about a result, that should be in the report. Everything should be in the report.
Oh, one more. We have this technique where we separate sperm cell DNA, because sperm cells are very tough, so if you have a vaginal sample (let’s say from a sexual assault), or an oral sample, or an anal sample, there’s going to be epithelial cells from the victim and the perpetrator. These cells look kind of cornflaky and they break easily, and they give up their DNA. So, we have a technique called differential extraction, which all the labs have been using for decades, and basically they break open the epithelial cells, suck off the DNA, call it an epithelial, and they spin down and they wash what’s left, and you get the sperm cells, if they’re there, and you break them open, and you get DNA from them.
You refer to those two tubes, the epithelial fraction, and the sperm fraction. I think calling it sperm, unless you’ve seen a sperm cell, or at least have tests for semen, is disingenuous. You should just call it the first fraction and second fraction. If, in the second fraction, you see a sperm cell, by all means, call it the sperm fraction, But, I’ve seen cases where they’ll just refer to something as sperm throughout.
Laura: Right, which might create bias.
Greg: And labs that are actually calling things positively for semen, because they’ve gone through this Six Sigma training; have you heard of this? So this is an efficiency driven system, and what I’ve heard from good friends in the lab (people who have trained in the same lab I trained in)… We were having a drink, and they said, “Well, everything’s positive now for sperm.” I said, “What do you mean everything’s positive for semen?” And they said, “Well you look at it like, eh…” And it’s because they went through Six Sigma and their efficiency expert said, “Well, if you have child’s clothing from a sexual assault, and you think there might be semen on it from an attacker, test for the semen, and if there’s semen, send it on to DNA”, which is kind of expensive and time-consuming. So, screen it for semen, so these honest, hard-working analysts, thinking that they were doing the right thing, were trying their darndest to hold those cards up to make it go to the next level regardless. And I asked, “Well why do you do that?” And they said, “Once it goes to DNA, you can tell whose DNA is on that child’s underwear, and if there’s no DNA, it’ll tell you there’s no DNA, and that person will be released.” And I said, “You’re not even thinking that most of these cases I handle are family members or people who care for the children, they have access to the children, they’re not a stranger, and there may be a really good reason for their DNA to be on clothing. If they’re folding it, or the kid’s on their lap, or their sleeping next to them, whatever. Not very good reason for their to be semen on this clothing.” So, they were sending it on saying “Semen positive” and in court, that DNA evidence is referred to as “the semen from the child’s underwear” throughout the court proceedings.
Laura: Right, and then you’re implicating a family member…
Greg: It’s over. The difference between holding a card up to see that you can pass it on for a DNA analyst… Now, I’ve told you that these are great people, smarter scientists than I am.
Laura: And it does seem like they are trying to do the right thing to get to the next level, but in the process…
Greg: Yeah, they’re cutting corners and it just shows you that human nature’s like… And these are really smart people! Because they don’t see what I see, which is people writing you saying, “I was not there. I didn’t touch them. It’s not my semen.” And I have to think through these problems and go, “What could have gone wrong”, and then test it to the best of our ability.
Laura: Which brings up a great point. By bringing everybody together, what have your experiences been at this meeting? I know you’ve been coming for… When did you start?
Greg: Oh man, I don’t know. It’s got to be 12 years or more. I think it’s great. Again, I think we’re headed in the right direction for a while, and I think we’ve retreated a bit, and the right direction is you need outsiders here. You don’t want everybody to be in law enforcement. More and more, and not just people selling to law enforcement. We need to have academics involved, and the only way you’re going to get academics involved, is there must be grants for people like me. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve got some money from the Department of Justice and some private foundations and all. But, for the most part, biologists aren’t going to touch this subject, because it’s very specialized. The review panels, the journals, they’re all filled with people from law enforcement. Or they trained with people in law enforcement. I think that, no matter what, that’s going to make you clubby. I would say the same thing if they were all defense attorneys, because I go to those meetings, and they are used to me raising heck with them too, and in fact, I’ll say that a lot of the people in the Innocence movement at first didn’t like probabilistic genotying, because some of them came from a defense background. They have some legitimate complaints about it, but I think a lot of it is just reaction to “Oh my God, that’s the newest thing from the prosecutors and it’s only meant to inflate match statistics.” And I’m like, “No, it’s actually very solid science.” So, I think we need to have outsiders at any conference and in any field where you expect to get at the good debates, like hopefully John and I are going to have tomorrow at the round table, or discussion I should say. And that’s what you benefit from. More than the National Academy of Science-type studies, and I think under this particular time, with the folks that are in charge of the government, I think there’s less of an emphasis on folks in science, and more of an emphasis on law enforcement. There’s reasons for both, but I’d like to see more science. My side is science.
Laura: Any favorite memories?
Greg: I have gotten to sit here once before, had a great time, and I watch everybody that year, and probably did for a couple of years, and then you get busy and you’re not involved. I just love hanging out with the scientists and talking to people. The young people are great, because they’re just full of new ideas, and they’re here to throw people like me under the bus or out the window like they’re supposed to, and they give you good challenges and it’s fun, and then, of course, there’s the folks who are even older than me, and have been around for so long that they have incredible stories. It’s meeting people that’s fun for me, and I get training as well.
Laura: Are you going to go the reception tonight?
Greg: Yeah we’ll see. We’ve loved that it’s always in such a nice place, and we’ve received help when we need it. It really is the premier place for forensic DNA. The DNA side, you guys have it. The Academy meeting is also good, but there are so many things discussed that not all the biologists go. But, this one, you get cutting edge forensic information. DNA forensic information.
Laura: Thank you, we do hear that a lot from people with the forensic focus. I’m glad your students are able to attend too. That’s great.
Greg: Yeah, I have a lab person, and a person who’s studying, so it’s great. I’m thrilled. To be able to bring people to the meeting is just wonderful.
Laura: Thank you so much for sitting down. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to include?
Greg: You know, I don’t know what else. The other thing is that you guys are great, because you do more than forensics also. So, it really comes from that strong background in molecular genetics. Actually, John Butler was just at Boise State last week, and I heard one of his two talks, and he said something really interesting. He said that he thought the field is moving ahead so quickly, it’s because of the molecular biology industry, and he really credited industry, and I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it definitely is true. The industry is what’s pushing us, because those people making money make jobs and there’s a lot of new people in the field. So, I have a lot of respect for you. And I invite all tax payers to come visit the lab, because for some reason I’ve been given this glorious opportunity to be a thinker and a tinkerer in science, and I never forget that that’s the greatest honor and opportunity, so we have lots of tax payers come through the lab. And, even if you’re not a tax payer, you’re all welcome.
Laura: I think that’s actually a wonderful thing to do. People are hungry for more information. There’s a reason why shows like CSI, whether they’re accurate or not is a whole other discussion, but that’s why it’s popular. People love the field. They’re very interested by.
Greg: And those are my heroes. I’ve seen Barry Scheck from the Innocence Project give talks to very small groups, and to giant places. These folks, Henry Lee, who would speak everywhere – I just saw him in United Arab Emirates, and John Butler coming out and talking to our students twice last week. So, I try to learn from them, even when I’m tired and scattered and have other things going on. I think, “no, you have an opportunity and a responsibility…” All of these people that I’ve mentioned have been given access to so much, really to have a lab at a university is a very expensive thing, and there’s all these wonderful people who have no idea what I’m doing who pay taxes. So, I’m very grateful.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS? SUBSCRIBE TO THE ISHI BLOG BELOW!