Forensic Connections Worldwide

Chances are if you know forensics, you know Zeno — not the Greek philosopher, but Zeno Geradts of Dr. Zeno's Forensic Science Site. Maybe you haven't met him in person, but you've checked out his Web site (www.forensic.to). He lets you know what's new and maybe helps you do your job better.

Geradts is a forensic scientist at the Netherlands Forensic Institute of the Ministry of Justice. He coordinates research and development in the digital evidence section in the area of forensic (video) image processing and biometrics.

The site combines his interest in forensics with communication. With an e-mail list, forum, free Web space, links and an e-newsletter announcing new content on the Web site, this is a one-man project.

Geradts devotes several hours weekly, but can end up working on his hobby many more hours if a problem, such as a denial-of-service attack, occurs. Despite the many hours he puts into the project, he doesn't credit only himself for the Web site content.

While he works on the site using tools from the Internet and Web providers to maintain the site, others in the forensic community submit information or post new links. Updates are very important, he says, and so is being told when information or a link is incorrect.

When Geradts first started his site in 1993, it was "a simple Web site with links."

"There was no software engine behind it," he says. "In the past, mostly universities were linked. In the meantime, the Internet became more commercial. The first hype was in the period of the O.J. Simpson case, when a lot more visitors were attracted, and after that the period of 'CSI.'"

Initially, the site saw the number of unique visitors increase 25 percent per year. Now the number of unique visitors has leveled off to 30,000 to 35,000 per month.

Through the site, Geradts has networked with others in the forensic science arena that he might not have without the Internet. Dr. Zeno's Forensic Science Site, available in German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese and Italian languages, has a worldwide audience.

Like his Web site, Geradts' contributions to forensic science go beyond the Netherlands. For example, he is a fellow of the engineering section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and coordinator of WP6 (Workpackage 6) Forensic Implications within the Future of Identity in the Information Society of the European Union. In 1995, Geradts received a young investigator award from the National Research Institute of Police Science in Tokyo for a project on video image restoration in which several methods were tested.

"The exchange of methods and research on pixel defects, together with the Japanese lab, was made easier by the Web site," says Geradts, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Utrecht and, whose dissertation was "Content-Based Information Retrieval from Forensic Image Databases."

Connecting the forensic science world
Two ways Geradts helps others in the world of forensic science make connections are an e-mail list, available at www.forensic.to/email, and his forum,available at www.forensic.to/forum.htm.

Everything is open for discussion and IP addresses are hidden from the outside world, but Geradts says he moderates the forum to prevent spam messages.

Here are a couple examples of topics posted for discussion:

"I am trying to uncover the printed words on an altered, photocopied document."

"Is there any long-term follow-up study on changes that take place in the shape of an adult ear? This is in connection with the ear's use in personal identification."

Trends in forensic science
When asked if he's seeing any trends develop in forensic science, Geradts replies, "Certainly, the sensitivity of DNA evidence is rapidly developing, as well as the methods for analyzing it. This is also true for chemical analysis, where the methods are more sensitive.

"Furthermore, we see more 3D visualization of crime scenes, and perhaps 3D scanners also will be introduced more quickly."

He mentions autopsies, done virtually in part with the help of MRI and CT scans, as a possible trend.

"Digital evidence also is an important part of forensic science, since digital traces are anywhere: on computers, phones and many more devices and cards that people use," he says.

The combination of evidence is also getting more important, he adds, since more and more questions are being asked with DNA alone. "DNA is as important as evidence. However, if more questions are asked as to how the contact traces are caused, it is important to have other evidence," he says.

Geradts speculates forensic science will be up against more difficult times in court, since more people have knowledge of forensic methods.

"It is good people remain critical to any evidence, since it is known that forensic scientists also can become biased in the interpretation of the results due to information they receive during their investigation," he says.

For this reason, he says it might help to use the Bayesian approach, which looks at probability. However, he says reporting in the Bayesian approach with an alternative hypothesis will lead to more difficult-to-read reports, and the judge and jury have to understand these.

The Bayesian approach lends itself to much discussion. Dr. Zeno's Forensic Science Site links to "The Bayesian Evidence Page" (www.mcs.vuw.ac.nz/~vignaux/evidenceindex.html), which not only talks about publications and other links, but a forum for those interested in the application of Bayesian methods in the presentation and analysis of evidence in court.

Truly, one connection leads to another. Whether you are looking for a helpful Web site or a helpful person, Dr. Zeno's Forensic Science Site makes connections.

Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer specializing in law enforcement topics. She lives in Wisconsin and can be reached at kanable@charter.net.

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