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Old 21st November 2017, 10:24 AM   #1
MikeG
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Huge problems at (UK) forensics labs.

Graudiun

Quote:
Officers leading investigation into alleged data manipulation at forensic laboratory say impact of inquiry is ‘profound’.

Policing chiefs say confidence in the criminal justice system has been rocked by the alleged manipulation of data at a forensics laboratory that has led to the review of 10,000 cases across England and Wales.
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Old 21st November 2017, 10:37 AM   #2
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When were these things privatised?
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Old 21st November 2017, 10:42 AM   #3
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About 5 years ago, I think.
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Old 21st November 2017, 10:56 AM   #4
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I think we have had similar problems with several such labs here in the USA. Not at private labs, either.
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Old 21st November 2017, 11:19 AM   #5
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Our most recent local lab scandal:

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/S...ng-3270657.php

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/...r18-story.html

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/articl...ms-3263797.php

And the disposition of the case:

http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/...commentlistpos

What was publicly revealed was the tip of the iceberg.
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Old 21st November 2017, 02:57 PM   #6
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Yes, the tories decided that the Government Forensic Service was too inefficient and private labs could be contrscted to do the work for a fraction of the cost at far greater efficiency (because market forces etc). tHEY closed all the government labs and sacked all the experienced scientists and technicians and got rid of decades of experience.
Instead of a central government run and controlled department each seperate police force makes it's own arrangements with private labs.

There was an interview this afternoon or Radio 4 with one of the former directors of the GFS, he predicted this would happen when the service was shut down and was saying 'I told you so'.

Under the old system test samples were sent 'blind' to the government labs. These looked like live cases but the expected results were already known to the quality department. In addition the same cases were sent to several different govt labs and the results cross checked.
Under the new system the private contractors certify themselves with no outside quality control.
They have an incentive to cut costs on already thin margins and push as many as they can through as quickly as possible to compete with other similar labs offering their services to the police forces.
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Old 21st November 2017, 05:05 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by LTC8K6 View Post
I think we have had similar problems with several such labs here in the USA. Not at private labs, either.
FBI lab has been known/noted for some iirc (and I do).
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Old 22nd November 2017, 01:57 AM   #8
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That's the fault of that plonker Cameron. Practically the first thing he did when he became Prime Minister was to close the government Forensic Science Service in Birmingham, UK, which had a world-wide reputation for high standards and research. It looks like forensics has now become like the FBI hair and fiber department in America, with its forensic fraud. This could put an innocent accused person in grave peril, as happened to Jeffrey MacDonald.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 02:38 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Henri McPhee View Post
That's the fault of that plonker Cameron. Practically the first thing he did when he became Prime Minister was to close the government Forensic Science Service in Birmingham, UK, which had a world-wide reputation for high standards and research. It looks like forensics has now become like the FBI hair and fiber department in America, with its forensic fraud. This could put an innocent accused person in grave peril, as happened to Jeffrey MacDonald.
You are on topic and yes this is an example of ideology over reality, Clegg's liberalism and Cameron's conservatism were well aligned on these types of decisions.

This is an example of what was predicted to happen by many people, a race to the bottom whilst maximising profit was always a sure fire way to ensure the focus was kept on quality....

I know of 2 private labs that actually did offer "specials" to police forces - pretty much along the lines of BOGOF so loved by the supermarkets, also quantity discounts "send us 11 samples and only pay for 10"!

Now of course problems can occur in many government run organisations, it isn't when you get down to it whether a lab is privately owned or government run, it is about how it is regulated. And removing "expensive" regulations was a key plank of Cameron and Osborne's "reforms". Never understanding that some "expensive" regulations are expensive because they have to be.

If they had retained the quality control regulations etc. in place prior to privatisation and privatised the labs it wouldn't have been as surefire certainty that problems like this would happen. But of course if the regulations etc. had been left in place the potential profit forecast of new private labs wouldn't have looked as appealing for investors.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 04:46 AM   #10
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Thread from 2010: http://www.internationalskeptics.com...d.php?t=194852
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Old 22nd November 2017, 05:13 AM   #11
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Who would have thought this is how it would pan out. Similarities with Brexit?
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Old 22nd November 2017, 05:21 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
Who would have thought this is how it would pan out. Similarities with Brexit?
No.

This is as a result of an ill advised privatisation, and didn't involve a referendum. This was government policy. Brexit was directly counter to government policy.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 05:34 AM   #13
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Well, the referendum was policy and the present situation is entirely due to government policy and is living up to the warnings that were given at the time.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 05:38 AM   #14
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So just remind me when anyone was given a vote on privatising the forensic service. Otherwise you could just as well make an equivalence between this privatisation and any old thing you did or didn't like from any government at any time in history. You've pushed this analogy way, way too far.

Besides, there's already a thread for whingeing about Brexit.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 09:13 AM   #15
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Where can this interview be found?

Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
There was an interview this afternoon or Radio 4 with one of the former directors of the GFS, he predicted this would happen when the service was shut down and was saying 'I told you so'.
I am curious about whom they interviewed. Do you have a link to this program? I searched at the BBC, but I did not find it.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 11:16 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post
I am curious about whom they interviewed. Do you have a link to this program? I searched at the BBC, but I did not find it.
Sorry, I can't remember if it was on World at one or PM. I suppose you could listen through the entire prog on iPlayer.
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Old 22nd November 2017, 01:08 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Captain_Swoop View Post
Yes, the tories decided that the Government Forensic Service was too inefficient and private labs could be contrscted to do the work for a fraction of the cost at far greater efficiency (because market forces etc). tHEY closed all the government labs and sacked all the experienced scientists and technicians and got rid of decades of experience.
Instead of a central government run and controlled department each seperate police force makes it's own arrangements with private labs.

There was an interview this afternoon or Radio 4 with one of the former directors of the GFS, he predicted this would happen when the service was shut down and was saying 'I told you so'.

Under the old system test samples were sent 'blind' to the government labs. These looked like live cases but the expected results were already known to the quality department. In addition the same cases were sent to several different govt labs and the results cross checked.
Under the new system the private contractors certify themselves with no outside quality control.
They have an incentive to cut costs on already thin margins and push as many as they can through as quickly as possible to compete with other similar labs offering their services to the police forces.
e

Whilst I think the loss of the Forensic Science Service was an error, we should not overlook the problems with it. It effectively became a monopoly supplier, this caused issues with being able to get an independent review of evidence. There were also issues with escalating costs as it provided a gold plated service.

In other laboratory systems there are external QC systems; if these had been emulated in the 'private' forensic laboratories that should have ensured the same level of QC as in the old governmental service. The Forensic science regulator was supposed to only approve laboratories with appropriate QC systems in place.
https://www.gov.uk/government/organi...ence-regulator

A real problem with private laboratories is that since they have to compete on price they do not have the resources that the Forensic science service had to innovate e.g. the development of DNA testing. There is also a danger that they provide an answer the customer wants.

One solution would be to support university based centres of forensic excellence that would innovate and train and be reference centres. A sort of intermediate between a monopoly provider and a free market. What is really needed is a mixed economy.

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Old 23rd November 2017, 12:34 AM   #18
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Some may find this project interesting, the Royal Society is developing a series of 'primers' on forensic science to help judges. The first two are on DNA fingerprinting, and gait analysis (the latter is unscientific and unproven they conclude). The actual documents can be downloaded from this page.

https://royalsociety.org/about-us/pr...ience-and-law/

DNA Primer Appendix 3 may be particularly relevant to other threads as it discusses some issues around transfer (it accepts that tertiary transfer occurs) and LCN replication.

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Old 23rd November 2017, 07:25 AM   #19
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As a lab-based person who has spent the last 30 years being horrified by what can go on when people prioritise profit over quality, I'm just renewing my horror.

On a related bur slightly tangential note, I was horrified just yesterday by an encounter with someone from the University of Surrey, which has recently opened a vet school which seems to have extremely questionable standards (unlike the other recently-established vet school in Nottingham which has acquired a very good reputation). Apparently this new facility is doing animal disease surveillance work, substituting for the now-closed Veterinary Investigation Centres in the south of England.

The VI service had a reputation for quality and professionalism which was second to none. It was staffed by people with a real pride in their job who were experts in their fields. Many of them were my personal friends. They are working in other areas now. So, this facility at Surrey University is apparently picking up the work. They started sending blood samples to me for analysis. I work in the Scottish VI service and we have not been privatised and we are still going and we're picking up a lot of work from England as it happens. These samples from Surrey were impossible to analyse because the blood was in such a poor state (haemolysed). I had this bloody woman on the phone wanting to know what was going wrong and why she wasn't getting any results.

To cut a moderately long story short, it turned out that the blood was taken, not from live animals, but from cadavers which had often been dead for a couple of days. Well, what do you expect? We never take cadaver blood for biochemistry analysis because this is inevitably going to happen. It's so inevitable it's self-evident. It's bonkers.

So we've gone from dedicated, highly-qualified experts who knew what they were doing and who passed that expertise down the generations in the VI centres (as well as conducting research and undertaking continuing professional development), to some lassie who is so damn clueless that she thinks she can just take a blood sample from a two-days-dead corpse and expect to get meaningful results for things like serum magnesium, potassium and phosphate from it. Animal disease surveillance in England is a thing of the past as far as I can see. This is bloody dangerous.

So with the Randox scandal. It may be nothing deliberate, but sheer lack of expertise. Or it may be staff who have fallen into the pattern of agreeing with the police and thinking they have to get the results they want. I suppose more will emerge.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 08:57 AM   #20
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ties between the labs and law enforcement

One problem with many laboratories in the United States is that they are associated with the state police, which often produces a pro-prosecution bias. Laboratories that are attached to (affiliated with?) universities would not have this problem, as the 2009 forensic report ("strengthening forensic science...a path forward") suggested. With whom was the old FSS affiliated?
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Old 23rd November 2017, 09:18 AM   #21
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The problems I've read about in forensics labs in the USA typically originate from:
1. inexperience or naivety of the personnel
2. an emotional identification with the criminal justice system, leading to the lab trying to find evidence that will please the police (typically evidence that supports the police's theory of the crime), or
3. focusing on profits and doing things as cheaply as possible, resulting in sloppy and unverifiable results.

This scandal in the UK forensics labs manages to hit all three at once. And of course some are interconnected: a private lab obtaining results that please the police (2) is much more likely to be used by the police next time, resulting in (3).

All absolutely predictable in advance. The only ways to avoid these problems are well known and have been described upthread: enough money to hire well trained personnel and to adequately equip the labs, samples provided only in coded form with their identity absolutely blind to the forensics lab, outside review including rigorous periodic secret testing using known controls, and a strong firewall between the lab and the police investigating the crime.

It is truly terrifying when one considers how many innocent people have and will suffer as a result of these botched tests. I was recently listening to a story on radio about a woman in the USA who was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine due to an analysis of a few tiny white crystals found in her car. She plead guilty of a reduced charge in a plea bargain because although she maintained her innocence, the risk of being convicted on the original charge was just too great for her to face. After months in jail she was released but could not find employment or housing because of her conviction. Surprise- reanalysis of the crystals several years later proved they were not cocaine at all but some innocent substance (I think so sort of cleaning agent but I I not certain).

IMHO one of the next steps after attempting to fix the laboratories will be to investigate the monetary connections between the private labs and those in government who pushed to use them.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 11:22 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post
One problem with many laboratories in the United States is that they are associated with the state police, which often produces a pro-prosecution bias. Laboratories that are attached to (affiliated with?) universities would not have this problem, as the 2009 forensic report ("strengthening forensic science...a path forward") suggested. With whom was the old FSS affiliated?
A virtue of the FSS was that it was independent, although a government body (within the Home Office, which also ran the metropolitan police, the security service (MI5) and the courts and prisons), it was not part of the police service. Even though it was independent, and I think most people believe that it was not pro-police, there was still a need for an independent alternative forensic science option.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 11:26 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Rolfe View Post
As a lab-based person who has spent the last 30 years being horrified by what can go on when people prioritise profit over quality, I'm just renewing my horror.

On a related bur slightly tangential note, I was horrified just yesterday by an encounter with someone from the University of Surrey, which has recently opened a vet school which seems to have extremely questionable standards (unlike the other recently-established vet school in Nottingham which has acquired a very good reputation). Apparently this new facility is doing animal disease surveillance work, substituting for the now-closed Veterinary Investigation Centres in the south of England.

The VI service had a reputation for quality and professionalism which was second to none. It was staffed by people with a real pride in their job who were experts in their fields. Many of them were my personal friends. They are working in other areas now. So, this facility at Surrey University is apparently picking up the work. They started sending blood samples to me for analysis. I work in the Scottish VI service and we have not been privatised and we are still going and we're picking up a lot of work from England as it happens. These samples from Surrey were impossible to analyse because the blood was in such a poor state (haemolysed). I had this bloody woman on the phone wanting to know what was going wrong and why she wasn't getting any results.

To cut a moderately long story short, it turned out that the blood was taken, not from live animals, but from cadavers which had often been dead for a couple of days. Well, what do you expect? We never take cadaver blood for biochemistry analysis because this is inevitably going to happen. It's so inevitable it's self-evident. It's bonkers.

So we've gone from dedicated, highly-qualified experts who knew what they were doing and who passed that expertise down the generations in the VI centres (as well as conducting research and undertaking continuing professional development), to some lassie who is so damn clueless that she thinks she can just take a blood sample from a two-days-dead corpse and expect to get meaningful results for things like serum magnesium, potassium and phosphate from it. Animal disease surveillance in England is a thing of the past as far as I can see. This is bloody dangerous.

So with the Randox scandal. It may be nothing deliberate, but sheer lack of expertise. Or it may be staff who have fallen into the pattern of agreeing with the police and thinking they have to get the results they want. I suppose more will emerge.
I agree with you, a parallel example is the preservation of the specialist microbiology services that were the public health laboratory service (originally not part of the NHS), which after much argument remain within Public Health England. Many local authority environmental health services have lost their independent laboratories and now need to use commercial services.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 02:43 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Giordano View Post
The problems I've read about in forensics labs in the USA typically originate from:
1. inexperience or naivety of the personnel
2. an emotional identification with the criminal justice system, leading to the lab trying to find evidence that will please the police (typically evidence that supports the police's theory of the crime), or
3. focusing on profits and doing things as cheaply as possible, resulting in sloppy and unverifiable results.

This scandal in the UK forensics labs manages to hit all three at once. And of course some are interconnected: a private lab obtaining results that please the police (2) is much more likely to be used by the police next time, resulting in (3).

All absolutely predictable in advance. The only ways to avoid these problems are well known and have been described upthread: enough money to hire well trained personnel and to adequately equip the labs, samples provided only in coded form with their identity absolutely blind to the forensics lab, outside review including rigorous periodic secret testing using known controls, and a strong firewall between the lab and the police investigating the crime.

It is truly terrifying when one considers how many innocent people have and will suffer as a result of these botched tests. I was recently listening to a story on radio about a woman in the USA who was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine due to an analysis of a few tiny white crystals found in her car. She plead guilty of a reduced charge in a plea bargain because although she maintained her innocence, the risk of being convicted on the original charge was just too great for her to face. After months in jail she was released but could not find employment or housing because of her conviction. Surprise- reanalysis of the crystals several years later proved they were not cocaine at all but some innocent substance (I think so sort of cleaning agent but I I not certain).

IMHO one of the next steps after attempting to fix the laboratories will be to investigate the monetary connections between the private labs and those in government who pushed to use them.
As a quick aside, with the guilty plea, good luck in getting a new hearing even with the exculpatory evidence in hand. I feel nothing but sympathy for the woman in this case; I would not attempt to plead not guilty either in this day and age. Very sad state of affairs we live in.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 03:33 PM   #25
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sodium bicarbonate should not have given a false positive result

Originally Posted by Giordano View Post

It is truly terrifying when one considers how many innocent people have and will suffer as a result of these botched tests. I was recently listening to a story on radio about a woman in the USA who was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine due to an analysis of a few tiny white crystals found in her car. She plead guilty of a reduced charge in a plea bargain because although she maintained her innocence, the risk of being convicted on the original charge was just too great for her to face. After months in jail she was released but could not find employment or housing because of her conviction. Surprise- reanalysis of the crystals several years later proved they were not cocaine at all but some innocent substance (I think so sort of cleaning agent but I I not certain).

IMHO one of the next steps after attempting to fix the laboratories will be to investigate the monetary connections between the private labs and those in government who pushed to use them.
I read about one instance in which the substance that falsely tested positive for cocaine was sodium bicarbonate and another in which it was flour. These presumptive tests are administered in the field (imperfect lighting conditions) and performed by cops, not forensic technicians. The criminal justice system in general (and certainly lawyers and their clients in particular) need to be clear on the difference between presumptive and confirmatory tests, a point I touched upon in an essay earlier this year.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 04:08 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post
I read about one instance in which the substance that falsely tested positive for cocaine was sodium bicarbonate and another in which it was flour. These presumptive tests are administered in the field (imperfect lighting conditions) and performed by cops, not forensic technicians. The criminal justice system in general (and certainly lawyers and their clients in particular) need to be clear on the difference between presumptive and confirmatory tests, a point I touched upon in an essay earlier this year.
Yes.

The reports I have read suggest that many probably poor and ill educated and poorly represented suspects have taken a plea deal on the basis of a positive presumptive (screening) test. I suspect many judges have just nodded through the deals without confirming that the accused really understand the consequences and the case against them. Judges should be protecting vulnerable defendants against plea deals, it would be interesting to know in how many cases judges refused to accept a plea deal. From the publics PoV I do not want a rapist getting off on a sexual assault charge because it is cheaper for the prosecution. Plea deals may deny justice to the victim.
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Old 23rd November 2017, 04:33 PM   #27
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Just for the sake of clarity, there are no plea deals in the UK.
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The Conservatives want to keep wogs out and march boldly back to the 1950s when Britain still had an Empire and blacks, women, poofs and Irish knew their place. The Don That's what we've sunk to here.
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Old 24th November 2017, 12:29 AM   #28
Planigale
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
Just for the sake of clarity, there are no plea deals in the UK.
Yes, thanks for the clarification, I was referring to the issue in the US.
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Old 24th November 2017, 10:21 PM   #29
The Norseman
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Originally Posted by MikeG View Post
Just for the sake of clarity, there are no plea deals in the UK.
I think frankly that I'd still rather be in the criminal justice system in the UK (and I have plans to move there in the next few years, so...) than here in the US.
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Old 2nd December 2017, 03:17 PM   #30
Elaedith
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Unfortunately, many forensic examiners do not recognise the need for blinded testing, as indicated in this recent survey:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...11368117300323
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Old 2nd December 2017, 03:32 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Elaedith View Post
Unfortunately, many forensic examiners do not recognise the need for blinded testing, as indicated in this recent survey:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/scienc...11368117300323
That was an intrinsic part of the Govt Forensic Service in the UK but it was taken away in the name of 'competition' and economy.
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