ANZFSS Council Response to PCAST Report

In November 2016, the ANZFSS Council published on the home page of this website a response to the 2016 report of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST report). Following a number of other publications, in November 2017 Council wrote a letter to the Editor of the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences. The original (November 2016) ANZFSS Council response is below, with the full text of the follow up letter available here.

ANZFSS Council Response to President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Report, November 2016

The primary aim of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society (ANZFSS) is the advancement of the study and application of forensic science. Recently, in the USA, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report on forensic science (PCAST report). This report, whilst highlighting valid concerns about some forensic science practices, is very generalised and ignores inherent differences across the range of forensic disciplines. It also primarily relates to the state-of-affairs in the USA. The ANZFSS would like to state emphatically that what constitutes current forensic practice in the USA is not necessarily the same as in Australia and New Zealand.

The Society is also of the belief that the report portrays forensic science in an overly simplistic manner and has too narrow a view. Above all, the report fails to recognise the essential reality that the reliability of evidence presented in court primarily depends on the relevance and quality of traces generated by context-dependent situations and from those samples collected in the field. The information is relative and its value depends on the questions being asked and on the type and level of inference considered. This does not seem to be understood by the report which instead focuses on a metrological view of forensic science.

There is however one aspect of the report with which the Society is in complete agreement; the need for both continuous training and research in forensic science. We are also aware of the lack of funding for this research and therefore support the recommendation of PCAST that this is essential if our science is to continue to develop into the future.

The ANZFSS organises a biennial symposium in which research and best practice in forensic science is presented. Fostering new ideas and collaborative research is promoted by ANZFSS and that intent is particularly apparent during these symposia. Continuing professional development can be gained though exposure to new practises and novel concepts, meeting others that share either similar or divergent views, and presenting material and information to your peers. ANZFSS plays a crucial role in helping early career scientist attend these symposia. While restating the view of PCAST that further education, training and research are essential, the recent high participation and engagement of the forensic science community at the ANZFSS symposium this year underscores the commitment to continually increase the quality of the forensic sciences in the Australia – Pacific region.

This commitment to research and best practice is also evidenced by the large number of publications in the international scientific literature authored by members of the ANZFSS, frequently in collaboration with international partners, and by demand for our members to regularly present and teach in forums outside of the Australasian region.

Further, the ANZFSS has recently established a new professional member category. It is our view that this will continue to foster a strong professional forensic science culture in Australia and in New Zealand.

The aims of the ANZFSS are in line with the educational and research recommendations of PCAST and this Society will continue to promote best practice in the forensic sciences.