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Shared Reading: Forensic Errors

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: August 5, 2004
Latest Update: August 5, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site Forensic Errors and False Convictions

  1. Introduction Why I chose to share this reading.
  2. Focus: Main point of this reading.
  3. Reading Full identification of source for reading AND excerpt.
  4. Concepts: Concepts and Key Words.
  5. Discussion Discussion questions.
  6. Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses What this has to do with our class.

* * *


  • I waned to share this reading with you to give you some sense of the crisis in objectivity at the beginning of the 21st Century. We have had such faith in our scientific testing that we have made the unstated assumption that science couldn't be wrong. This article gives you some sense of the fact that where the science itself may be reliable, the humans who interpret are just that, human, and they DIO make mistakes.


  • I'd like you to come away from this reading with a measure of humility to soften any arrogant belief in the "objectivity" and "truth" of science that may have obscured your willingness to listen in good faith to Others. Especially those we have judged and are judging based on our scientific interpretations.

Concepts and Key Words:

  • forensic scientists: those who deal in the collection and interpretation of evidence for courts and trials "relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems: forensic medicine, forensic science, forensic pathologist, forensic experts" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)


Discussion Questions:

  1. Clearly, people were wrongly convicted in this debacle. Does that mean we cannot trust forensic evidence?

    Consider this from the perspective of methodology. Forensic science provides us with reliable and valid measures of some data that are pertinent to the solving of crimes or disputes. The science itself is reliable and valid until further science tells us otherwise. But the people who interpret the forensic data are humans, fallible humans with real problems and real concerns that may alter their scientific agenda. That doesn't mean that we should categorically not trust forensic experts. It means that we should be aware that there are unstated assumptions in our dominant discourse that experts are trustworthy authorities who are always "right." That's the unstated assumption that gets us in trouble. In this reading some of those experts were either not trustworthy or not competently knowledgeable. By failing to keep in awareness our own unstated assumptions, we become complicit in the wrongful conviction of innocent Others.

  2. Why does dominant discourse make these unstated assumptions that eventually get us in trouble?

    Consider that dominant discourse is not a person, not an entity, it's a socially constructed set of beliefs like "idees dans l'air" (ideas in the air) that float around in casual discourse. Dominant discourse is basically "what people are saying," in the open marketplace of everyday ideas, with no checks or balances on what's "true", what's intentionally false, what's someone's belief, and juicy gossip. I now know more about Kobe Bryant's life than I do about his basket ball, and certainly more than I ever wanted to know. Is it true? Is WHAT true? Who knows? And basically who cares? It's a private concern between Kobe and the young woman and their private contacts, and the courts. What the "dominant discourse" says can't affect the trial; it's not evidence. But it certainly does affect lots of peoples' personal sense of connection to Kobe Bryant. It's become a "live soap opera." Perhaps we should ask ourselves if that means we're complicit in turning someone's life into a personal hell for our amusement and entertainment.

    Recall that the dominant discourse is an integral part of the social context in which we live. We, as individuals, interact and are interdependent with it. It is not some abstract thing floating out there on the horizon. It is a part of the social mix that makes us who we are and that makes our community what it is. Perhaps we are accountable for allowing the dominant discourse to float in our air with no attempt to balance it with an awareness of the harm that can come through our entertaining "live soap operas."

Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses:

  • Agencies:
    Sample linking: Ways in which underlying assumptions of assimilation affect services offered and clients' ability to access and use those services. How does this reading illustrate the need for social agencies, for more generalized agencies, for what Bolman and Deal would call "leadership" AND "management"? How does this reading suggest ways in which we could be more effective in rendering help, and what is the reading's relationship to a "safety net" for those who need help?

  • Criminal Justice:
    Sample linking: Ways in which some groups are underrepresented in the unstated assumptions of our theories. How does this reading serve to illustrate adversarialism, mutuality, retribution, revenge, illocutionary understanding, the definition and operation of the criminal justice system?

  • Law:
    Sample linking: Extent to which laws are made on the assumption that we are all essentially assimilated to the dominant culture. How does this reading help us see the need for contextual readings in law? How does it relate to our natural instincts to seek some kind of natural law? What facts and principles does the reading offer for discourse that could clarify for Others validity claims presented by an Obscure Other?

  • Moot Court:
    Sample linking: Ways in which to make validty claims of harm understood by those who have never experienced many of the world's different perspectives. How can this reading enlighten our praxis in terms of different kinds of discourse, like instrumental, illocutionary, governance?

  • Women in Poverty:
    Sample linking: The culture of poverty and assimilation. How does the reading deal with our underlying assumptions about poverty, especially poverty of the exploited, the NOT- male? What does the reading suggest of the interrelationship between our society and its children, generally cared for by women, often poor?

  • Race, Gender, Class:
    Sample linking: The extent to which silence has been imposed by these affiliations so that domination and discrimination have entered our unstated assumptions in interpersonal relations and the structural context arising from them. What does the reading tell us about exploitation and alternative ways to deal with one another? What does it tell us about institutionalized -isms and our denial of complicity? What does it tell us about our common humanity?

  • Religion:
    Sample linking: The spiritual component. Humans are spiritual creatures, creatures that recognize moments that go beyond ourselves to God, Allah, Isis, Gaia, the Universe, or a deep sense of responsibility to create our own meanng. How does the reading fit into our ability, our need to create such meaning in life?

  • Love !A:
    Sample linking: What's the aesthetic link in this reading? How does it bring us closer to one another as humans? What does it tell us about our need for love, unconditional love, not rewards for doing well or being well, but caring and acceptance for being who we are?

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, August 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.