Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

I just read an interesting news story on MSNBC about a group of forensic dentists who are attempting to make a computerized database of bite mark characteristics. Apparently, bite mark evidence is fairly controversial among attorneys and forensic specialists, because of how skin may or may not distort a bite pattern. The end result being that sometimes you get experts testifying in court who have reached different conclusions from the same evidence. What intrigued me, though, about the article - and what prompted the post - was this quote by one of the people in the bite-evidence-is-bad camp:

"If the discipline lends itself to opposing experts, it's not science," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongfully convicted inmates.

The question I have is, what the heck science journals is this guy reading, anyway? I'll grant I'm not a scientist, but I know enough about the sciences in general to know that there are debates in the scientific community, just as there are debates in every academic field.

What's significant about this, to my mind, is the way it's reflective of the popular conception of "Science" (capitalized on purpose) as the final arbiter of truth, and the assumption that Science is something that can be done with pure objectivity, therefore leaving no room for debate. This latter position, of course, is often used to characterize one's opponents as having some sort of underhanded agenda: they disagree with the Science, and since the Science can't be wrong, they must be trying to pull something.

There's more there that I could tease out, and is certainly worthy of discussion, but that will have to wait for another time.

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