Something that has bothered me for quite some time is our reliance on “science” to determine guilt or innocence. This happens in a number of settings, DNA matches, paternity tests, drug testing for employment, background checks, all these new and improved ways we think we have a determining guilt of innocence, fit or unfit.
We elevate the idea of science to an unrealistic height and tend to put too much value and emphasis on expert testimony. We’ve created this somewhat elitist culture, where we hire experts, consultants, alleged professionals, to tell us things that common sense used to.
So, the headline FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades, caught my attention. It joins all the other articles I’ve read over the years where the so-called experts have got themselves caught and exposed for engaging in a bit of deception. Drug labs fabricating results, paternity testers selling results, DNA for sale, the chain of evidence mangled.
We often hear on our TV’s that DNA is 99.9% accurate, implying that it is nearly full proof, that there can be no doubt that we have caught you red handed. Science says so. Expert witness says so. End of story. It isn’t the end of the story, however. There are some people who can have double sets of DNA, an oddity for sure, but it’s a real thing in the world.
Not long ago there was a mother who gave birth to a child that was determined to not be her own. She went through quite a nightmare, and what struck me as so strange about the whole thing was that we refused to believe our own lying eyes, and instead took the word of “science.” Common sense should have kicked in and shown someone that this child passed through this woman’s body, so obviously he was her child. What was eventually discovered was that she had two strands of DNA within herself and it wasn’t until they dug much deeper that they encountered the strand that she had passed onto the kid. At first glance however, that was not her child.
DNA can also be planted at just about any crime scene. People are forever dropping bits of themselves and their bodily fluids about. Just as we can plant finger prints at a crime scene, there’s probably a thriving underground market for DNA too, just as there is for clean urine for drug tests.
I suppose I find this issue so compelling because I have watched us move from a common sense approach where an employer would interview you and hire you based on human interaction and judgments, to a more detached approach where today we tend to rely more on some employment screening process, drug testing, psychological tests conducted online, and experts making determinations before you ever encounter a real live person.
We use lie detector tests in criminal investigations, profiles, forensic psychology, so-called expert witnesses, and laboratories as if they are full proof, and all these new technologies must be perceived as the absolute truth of all things.
True, it’s not quite as serious as being on trial for your life or something, but I have lost several job opportunities due to clerical errors. Once I had a background check come back with theft on it. Somebody had transposed my SS number, but it was too late for me with that job. Once I had a drug test come back inconclusive. There are a lot of things that can make that happen, but it nixed me out of the hiring pool. I spent about 3 years trying to repair my credit report once when it didn’t even belong to me. I lost another opportunity when none of my previous job experience would show up on a computer.
To do my simple, mediocre job, now requires digital fingerprints and a federal background check. I wasn’t too happy to have my fingerprints released into cyberspace for anybody clever enough to access them. Really bizarre that the company who regulates our credentials is a foreign country. A few years back they lost my license renewal and left me unemployed for three months. Where did all my personal info go? I don’t know, into the abyss of cyberspace with my fingerprints.
There’s a push now to get us to all submit our DNA to a national database. I don’t like that idea one bit. We’re quickly approaching a sci/fi world that reminds me far too much of Enemy of the State.
This line from the article linked above should really haunt us, “The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death.” Were those people guilty? I don’t know, but flat out the FBI admits it lied. For those we trust to outright lie in criminal cases is pretty serious.
I don’t know if anyone has ever tried to go up against bureaucracy and the system, but it is an absolutely maddening and powerless feeling, made all the more difficult because so many people seem to believe science is God and therefore incapable of error. They tend to forget that the god of science is also heavily tainted by the god of bureaucracy, and they are both usually having an affair with the god of human error.
**a special shout out to the The Praetorian Writers Group who first alerted me to this issue.