Research center, Innocence Project, statistics magazine mark anniversary of ‘Strengthening Forensic Science’ report with special issue

AMES, Iowa – Over and over, a committee of the National Research Council heard the same message about the state of forensic science in the United States:

“The forensic science system, encompassing both research and practice, has serious problems that can only be addressed by a national commitment to overhaul the current structure that supports the forensic science community in this country,” said a landmark report by the research council’s Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community.

That report – “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” and its 13 major recommendations – is now 10 years old.

CSAFE logo

One result of that report is the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE) based at Iowa State University. Established in 2015, it’s a $20 million Center of Excellence of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


CSAFE leaders are marking the anniversary of the state-of-forensics report by working with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that works to prevent and overturn wrongful convictions, to sponsor a special issue of Significance Magazine focused on forensic science and statistics.

Alicia Carriquiry

Alicia Carriquiry

“It’s rare for Significance to dedicate an issue to a specific topic,” said Alicia Carriquiry, director of CSAFE and a Distinguished Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences and President’s Chair in Statistics at Iowa State. “It’s great that the editors were willing to do this. It shows that the center is having an impact. The work we are doing is recognized as good work.”

Significance, a publication of the American Statistical Association and the Royal Statistical Society of the United Kingdom, has published six stories about forensics in its April issue:

  • And an “In Practice” column featuring questions and answers with Gillian Tully, the forensic science regulator for England and Wales.

As Stern, Cuellar and Kaye note in their story, there are still gaps in the scientific understanding of forensic evidence and preventing errors will continue to be a challenge.

“But there is hope for continued improvement,” they wrote. “Studies in a wide variety of disciplines, such as firearms, fingerprints, shoe prints and even bloodstain pattern analysis, are being carried out to better understand – and improve – the reliability and validity of forensic science evidence.”

With that new knowledge – plus increased judicial scrutiny and improvements in quality control – the three wrote that “forensic science can limit miscarriages of justice and increase the efficacy and fairness of investigations and prosecutions.”