Wednesday, 25 January 2017

"Making Sense of Forensic Genetics" - a new guide from Sense About Science

We find in genetic genealogy that there are many misconceptions about the use of DNA, and people often tend to give undue weight to DNA evidence. In order to draw a conclusion it is necessary to look at all the available evidence in combination, rather than a single piece of evidence in isolation. DNA evidence on its own is not very informative. It's also very important that the DNA evidence is interpreted correctly.

These principles are even more important in a crime investigation where a person's innocence or guilt is at stake. DNA evidence can be a game changer but there are also cases where its misuse has led to miscarriages of justice. Misconceptions are fuelled by the misrepresentation of DNA analysis in the media and in popular crime programmes such as Silent Witness, CSI and Waking the Dead. There are also some police departments which are using forensic DNA technology that has not been scientifically validated.

Making Sense of Forensic Genetics is a welcome and much-needed new guide, published by Sense About Science, which sets out to explain how DNA is used in the criminal justice system and to educate the public and professionals alike on the correct application of forensic genetics in criminal investigations. The guide also includes some helpful real-life case studies to illustrate how DNA evidence works in practice. As the authors say: "DNA needs to be viewed within a framework of other evidence. It’s an important detection tool, but it’s certainly not a detective".

The guide has been produced by EUROFORGEN, a European network of forensic DNA researchers, working in collaboration with Sense About Science. Many people from related disciplines were also involved in the development of the booklet including police, barristers, judges, legal charities and crime fiction writers. I was invited to a user feedback workshop as a representative of the genetic genealogy community and provided feedback on the drafts of the booklet so I can testify at first hand to the extensive consultation process involved.

The booklet clarified a lot of the questions that I had about the use of forensic genetics and the interpretation of DNA evidence in court. I highly recommend reading it. You can download a copy here.

Media coverage and further reading
Dr Denise Syndercombe Court, reader in forensic genetics at Kings College London, and one of the researchers involved in the writing of the booklet, spoke about the guide on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. Listen here from 50:25.

The guide was featured on BBC Radio 4 Inside Science programme with Adam Rutherford on 27th January.

A piece about the guide will shortly be up on The Conversation (I'll update this blog post when the link goes live),

Peter Gill, one of the authors of the guide, has written an article for The Justice Gap on How misuse of DNA evidence has led to miscarriages of justice.

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