THE FORENSIC DISCONNECT: RESEARCH V REAL WORLD
Practical research in forensic geology addresses the questions that will best aid the investigators, judges, and juries in assessing guilt or innocence. The majority of forensic geology casework performed in the FBI Laboratory involves the comparison of samples of known materials (e.g., a soil from a crime scene) versus a specimen collected from a questioned source, (e.g., debris collected from a pair of shoes) to determine whether they could have originated from a shared source. Occasionally, the question is one of identification of an unknown material. Less frequently, it is a matter of provenance investigation. On very rare occasions, a forensic geologist is called upon to attempt to locate a clandestine grave.
A review of the subjects of recent publications and presentations in forensic geology shows that the majority of research being published involves: 1) Topics that are of minor value to the practicing forensic geologist. Typically, these are papers originating from geologists with little exposure to forensics. 2) Forensic geology research that is not performed by geologists and that can be handicapped by a lack of geologic knowledge. These papers originate in the forensic science community. Unsurprisingly, the disconnect between the two communities could be remedied by more interaction. Many forensic laboratories would welcome the opportunity to suggest or support research in topics of interest to geologic researchers. Several collaborative research opportunities will be presented in this talk. This collaboration could result in valuable results that would strengthen the field of forensic geology, and improve its utility to the legal system.