Another of the findings referenced poorly trained experts in forensic labs. Houck, who is an instructor and directs educational and professional resources in forensic science, says this finding is valid, adding that there are certain disciplines that have only recently begun to require a bachelor's degree, for example. "There are so few outlets for training that it doesn't surprise me that the committee felt that forensic scientists were overall poorly trained," Houck says. He explains that training is a two-way street: The first part of which there aren't a lot of venues for some training, and two, the laboratories themselves or law enforcement agencies do not have or are able to provide funds for training.
"I wouldn't say it's exactly the fault of the scientists or the profession itself, it's lack of venues and lack of funding," Houck continues.
"Considering that people are the greatest expense in a laboratory, you'd want to invest in those people. [Currently] we don't train people like it matters."
Limiting errors in justice, science
Boiled down, the National Academy of Sciences report on the state of forensics may look brutal, but experts immersed in the industry find it accurate and ultimately, necessary that these things be said.
Leaders in the forensics arena like Houck and Henderson remain enthusiastic about the science as a whole, and look forward to building a "better 'forensic science,' " as Henderson puts it.
"This is a very exciting time to be in forensic science, I have to say that much," Henderson says.
The study's findings, it is hoped, will help experts put their best foot forward.
The lexis of a German playwright, Bertolt Brecht, from more than a half-century ago sums up the report's resounding message: "The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error."
Editor's note: The complete report is available from the National Academies Press, www.nap.edu, and the documents the panel reviewed in researching the report are available through the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law at www.ncstl.org.