- Jaws is busy terrorizing buffaloes in Boulder at the moment. He seems to be having a good time...
- The Supreme Court demonstrated rather definitively this morning why there needs to be at least one justice with a more-than-"rocks-for-jocks" background in laboratory sciences. In Williams v. Illinois, No. 108505 (PDF), a plurality of the Court's justices demonstrated that they don't understand how lab techs can screw up... and the dissenters demonstrated that they don't, either. Together, the opinions get a D+ in understanding how laboratory technicians turn samples taken in the field into admissible evidence with the Weight of Science™ behind it. Justice Kagan's dissent begins to deal with some of the overt administrative problems, but never reaches silly little issues like sample contamination and preservation, inherent instrument sensitivity, the problems with comparisons produced using different DNA replication techniques, etc.
I'm a mere biochemist (trained before there were any automated DNA sampling systems), so perhaps I'm no more qualified to answer the particular questions in Williams than were the members of the Court. At least, however, I know some of the questions to ask... if only from my combined experience as a biochemist and as a commanding officer responsible for evaluating drug testing results. Bluntly, I've seen too damned many of these labs in "action" to blindly accept results. I'm not against the science, by any means; it's just that I understand that lab technique and procedure is really important in getting the data to which we apply our various scientific theories, and Williams just doesn't reflect any real understanding of that. In a way, it's disturbingly parallel to the problem of believing police eyewitness testimony over that of third-party witnesses... which might make for an interesting law journal article.
18 June 2012
at 07:26 [UTC8]
Just a couple of quick notes from on the road...