Yup, still not Friday, but posting a few Science Friday videos that I've missed lately.
"Artist Angela Strassheim began her career as a forensic photographer in a crime lab. She soon left to focus on art full-time, but she didn’t entirely leave the field behind. Her body of work, Evidence, is a documentary art project created using forensic techniques she learned on the job. The striking, sometimes disturbing images ask the question: after a tragic event, what remains?"
"The CSI Effect," is a reference to the popular television show CSI -- Crime Scene Investigation and its spin-offs.
In reality, our forensic science system, upon which criminal and civil litigation depends, has been found to be far from meeting scientific standards.
A National Research Council report, "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward," stated:
"The forensic science system in the United States has serious problems that can only be addressed by a national commitment to overhaul the current structure that supports the forensic science community,"
The report urges Congress to authorize and fund a new federal entity, the National Institute of Forensic Science, or NIFS, to oversee how forensic science is practiced in the United States.
The report was welcomed by lawyers for the Innocence Project, which has employed DNA evidence to help free 232 wrongly convicted defendants.
For example, it mentions the case of attorney Brandon Mayfield who in 2004 was erroneously linked by digital fingerprint images to train bombing in Madrid that year. Mayfield was arrested and subsequently released when the FBI acknowledged that it had made a mistake.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said "many forensic disciplines lack the standards necessary to ensure their scientific reliability in court (and) that forensic laboratories and their experts do not have uniform, mandatory accreditation policies."
Courtesy YnseBritain’s current process of collection and storage of DNA and fingerprints faces a major upheaval. The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that storing such information was a violation of people’s privacy rights. Britain now has until March to destroy almost 1 million of the DNA samples they have stored or make a case for keeping them.
Seven years ago, a man and a teenager were arrested for two unrelated crimes and both charges were later dropped. Both requested that their DNA samples be destroyed, but police refused, keeping the samples on file. Britain previously stored DNA samples of anyone arrested even if they were not convicted of a crime. They keep the samples until the person’s death or until they are 100 years old.
Britain has over 4.5 million samples of DNA, one of the largest databases in the world. Many officials are unhappy with the court ruling, noting that the information has been valuable in solving many recent cases. Human rights groups contend that the court’s decision respects the privacy rights of innocent citizens.
The United States currently allows collection of DNA from convicted felons. However, they have announced plans to collect DNA from people arrested by federal agencies as well as foreigners who have been detained.
Do you think that storing DNA samples is a violation of privacy rights or is it necessary to solving criminal cases? What do you think are fair standards for collection and storage?
You can read more about this at European court makes landmark ruling on DNA rights
I readily acknowledge the fact that I haven’t lived my life quite up to Otzi standards—I don’t have any tattoos (that I know of), I’ve never killed anybody (that I know of), I don’t own a cape…the list goes on—but I hope that when hikers find my frozen corpse, thousands of years in the future, they’ll be as thrilled with it as they are with Otzi. Honestly, every millimeter of our leathery friend is getting the once over and the double take.
Scientists figured out what Otzi’s last meal was years ago (they practically dove into his stomach), but they’re still going over the most minute of minutia of the iceman’s guts. And, you know what? I’m into it.
Archaeobotanists and moss-experts are the last to have taken a swing at Otzi. They have found trace remains of six different kinds of moss in Otzi’s intestines, and were able to identify them under a microscope. None of those moss varieties, interestingly, are the kinds of moss that you’d eat (if there are any kinds of moss you’d eat). They do, nonetheless, add to the details of Otzi’s life.
One of the kinds of moss, the scientists guess, was used to wrap one of Otzi’s last meals (sort of a fuzzy saran wrap, I guess), another probably got into his water, and another was most likely used as a dressing for a wound (he probably chewed it up and swallowed a little). At least one of the mosses, however it got into him, isn’t known to grow in the region where Otzi was found, adding another location to Otzi’s travel diary. So cross that off your bucket list, little dude.
None of this information is insulating my attic, or buying me dinner, but I still think it’s pretty cool. The same sort of forensic techniques we might use to solve a murder today are being used to learn about the life of a guy who died 53 centuries ago. I like it.
Did you ever wonder what those pesky moths ate before they ate your clothes in your closet? Clothes moths were known previously to feed on dead animals. Recently, scientists also discovered that the casemaking clothes moth, one of the two most common closet menaces, can be helpful in forensic work as well!
The casemaking clothes moth, so named because it makes a fuzzy case-like home for itself as a young caterpillar, will eat human hair and can even feed on corpses. The caterpillars can eat enough hair to identify a body with DNA.
These moths can be particularly helpful if a body is moved to a new location. The caterpillar will move to a nearby spot, away from the body, to make its cocoon. Then, if the body is moved, DNA evidence from the caterpillar in the cocoon can tie the victim to the original location.
More information on this can be found at Science News.
Courtesy Puget Sound PartnershipA mystery has been unfolding in British Columbia over the past year. Since August 2007, seven body-less feet have been found washed up on the banks of the Frasier River and Georgia Strait. The most recent foot was discovered on November 11 by a couple walking along the Frasier River. One of the feet has been identified by DNA as belonging to a missing man. Investigators are looking to missing persons reports in an attempt to identify the other feet.
Some people have found the fact that many of the feet were in tennis shoes and were right feet to be suspicious, but authorities believe that the body parts are most likely from natural deaths and have travelled by ocean currents to the shore. Forensic analysts agree with a scenario in which the feet disarticulated naturally from the bodies, with the tennis shoes keeping the feet afloat while other body parts likely sank. Is this a hoax, a serial killer who has a big problem with sneakers or just an odd and icky manifestation of natural deaths? You can find more information in this article Another severed foot washes up on B.C. coast. And, to see what local British Columbians think is going on, or if you enjoy some morbid humor and a foot pun or twelve, check out the comments section of this article.
Courtesy matt coatsImagine a crime scene that has hundreds of crime scene investigators. All of the students at Arlington High School in St. Paul, MN are working together to crack the case! As part of the school’s BioSMART program, intended to expose students sciences, engineering, business, etc., this school-wide lesson is drawing on a variety of different disciplines. Art students have become sketch artists, English language learners are questioning “persons of interest”, other students are working to determine the angles of blood spatter. I think this lesson is really a neat way to highlight how crime scene investigation draws on many different subjects and specialists. It is also a cool way to get students interested in subjects that maybe they would not have thought about before. What do you think?
Researchers in Australia have developed a way to mark artwork with an invisible chemical fingerprint. A forensic chemist named Rachel Green has been developing the technology for the past five years. The process involves determining the trace elements present in a painting and then adjusting the mixture of trace elements to make its own signature. Artwork can be treated with this signature a of couple different ways, by mixing it in with the paint or spraying it on previously completed works. Green claims it does not harm the painting.
The technology could prove valuable in preventing art forgery and Green hopes that it will also help indigenous artists by increasing the value of their art and reducing fraudulent works. Earlier this month, a painting by Freddy Timms of Australia was the first painting to be treated by this process.
What can messages on your cell phone say about you? They can potentially reveal your age, gender or even your identity. Linguistic forensics is being increasingly used as an investigation tool and as evidence in court, including in cases where suspects claimed text messages as alibis. In a recent case, text messages from a missing woman’s phone were used in the conviction of her ex-boyfriend for her murder. Experts determined that the style of suspicious text messages from her phone pointed toward him as the author rather than her. They looked at, among several differences, her consistent use of the spelling “myself” versus the use of “meself” in the questioned texts.
Dr. Tim Grant is researching the linguistic analysis of text messaging and has developed a method to quantify stylistic differences between two texts. He also has put together a database of 7000 texts so far. He hopes his research will determine the base rate for specific texting features and show similarities among groups of individuals that frequently text each other. You can contribute your text messages to his research at a link in the article below.
Do you often find yourself watching those prime-time crime dramas on TV asking yourself, "Wow! I didn't know they could figure out whom the killer is based on a single carpet fiber sample found on the sidewalk outside of a crime scene! Can they really do that?!?" Well, some of the processes we see on TV may not be quick as quick and easy, or even possible compared to real life crime investigation.
Lisa Smith, of the University of Leicester School of Psychology, is doing some research to see how these portrayals of forensics on TV are affecting how jurors view forensic evidence in actual court cases. Jurors make their decisions based upon their knowledge, perceived understanding, and beliefs regarding forensic evidence. So the next time you are watching some evening television or even hear a news story regarding some forensic evidence, think twice about the validity of what you see!
Oh, and if you like, there is an online questionnaire for the study!