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Forensic Science

Associations, education, careers, books, articles, and other publications

Forensic science (often called simply "forensics") is the application of various sciences and technologies to investigate situations after the fact and to establish what occurred. This is most often associated with criminal matters thanks, in large part, to well-publicized criminal cases and popular television shows like CSI, Law and Order, and Dexter. However, forensics are also carried out in other fields, such as accounting, construction engineering, and geology.

Many different professional and academic groups promote the use and validation of forensic science, including the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, the British Academy of Forensic Sciences, and the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Some of the best known examples of forensics in the courtroom include fingerprinting, DNA testing, and forensic accounting, but there are dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of others. A few examples include:

  • Blood Spatter Analysis: the scientific examination of blood spray patterns found at a crime scene to reconstruct the events of the crime.
  • Criminalistics: the application of various sciences to answer questions relating to examination and comparison of biological evidence, trace evidence, impression evidence (such as fingerprints, footwear impressions, and tire tracks), controlled substances, ballistics, firearm and toolmark examination, and other evidence in criminal investigations.
  • Digital forensics: the application of proven scientific methods and techniques in order to recover data from electronic / digital media.
  • Forensic accounting: the study and interpretation of accounting evidence.
  • Forensic anthropology: the application of physical anthropology in a legal setting, usually for the recovery and identification of skeletonized human remains.
  • Forensic archaeology: the application of a combination of archaeological techniques and forensic science.
  • Forensic botany: the study of plant life in order to gain information regarding possible crimes.
  • Forensic chemistry: the detection and identification of drugs, accelerants used in arson cases, explosive and gunshot residue, and other chemical evidence.
  • Forensic dactyloscopy: the study of fingerprints.
  • Forensic document examination: Also known as "questioned document examination," answers questions about a disputed document using a variety of scientific processes and methods, such as comparing questioned documents to known standards. The most common type of examination involves handwriting analysis, whereby the examiner determines authorship of a document based on comparison to examples of a suspected author's known handwriting samples.
  • Forensic DNA analysis: Using an individual's DNA to answer forensic questions such as paternity/maternity testing or placing a suspect at a crime scene.
  • Forensic engineering: the scientific examination and analysis of structures and products relating to their failure or cause of damage.
  • Forensic entomology: using insects on and around human remains to assist in determination of time or location of death.
  • Forensic limnology: the analysis of evidence collected from crime scenes in or around fresh-water sources.
  • Forensic odontology: using dental records and the unique pattern of teeth to identify bite marks or bodies that are otherwise unrecognizable.
  • Forensic podiatry: the study of feet, footprints, and footwear tread patterns and their traces to establish personal identity in forensic examinations.
  • Forensic psychiatry/psychology: a specialized branch of psychiatry based on scientific criminology and using forensic methods to investigate criminal behavior.
  • Forensic serology: the study of the bodily fluids.
  • Forensic toxicology: the study of the effect of drugs and poisons on/in the human body.
  • Forensic video analysis: the scientific examination, comparison and evaluation of video in legal matters.

There are dozens of other fields of forensic science, and the list grows and changes over time. Many principles of forensics that were once considered widely accepted have come into question over time and been discarded. Meanwhile, other areas are evolving and coming into use every year as new scientific discoveries are made or new technology develops.

Forensics Associations and Societies

  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences

    As a professional society dedicated to the application of science to the law, the AAFS is committed to the promotion of education and the elevation of accuracy, precision, and specificity in the forensic sciences. It does so via the Journal of Forensic Sciences (its internationally recognized scientific journal), newsletters, its annual scientific meeting, the conduct of seminars and meetings, and the initiation of actions and reactions to various issues of concern. For its members and affiliates, AAFS provides placement services as well as scientific reference studies. As the world’s most prestigious forensic science organization, the AAFS represents its membership to the public and serves as the focal point for public information concerning the forensic science profession. Founded in 1948, the AAFS is headquartered in Colorado Springs, CO.

  • American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law

    The American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) is an organization of psychiatrists dedicated to excellence in practice, teaching, and research in forensic psychiatry. Founded in 1969, AAPL currently has more than 1,500 members in North America and around the world.

  • American College of Forensic Examiners (ACFEI)

    The American College of Forensic Examiners Institute of Forensic Science (ACFEI) is an independent, scientific, and professional society.
    Multi-disciplinary in its scope, the society actively promotes the dissemination of forensic information. The association's purpose is the continued advancement of forensic examination and consultation across the many professional fields of our membership. ACFEI has elevated standards through education, basic and advanced training, and Diplomate Status.
    ACFEI serves as the national center for this purpose and circulates information and knowledge through the official journal - The Forensic Examiner®, lectures, seminars, conferences, workshops, continuing education courses, and home study courses.

  • American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors

    The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) is a nonprofit professional society of crime laboratory directors and forensic science managers dedicated to providing excellence in forensic science through leadership and innovation. The purpose of the organization is to foster professional interests, assist the development of laboratory management principles and techniques; acquire, preserve and disseminate forensic based information; maintain and improve communications among crime laboratory directors; and to promote, encourage and maintain the highest standards of practice in the field.

  • Association of Certified Fraud Examiners - ACFE

    The ACFE is the world's premier provider of anti-fraud training and education. Together with over 37,000 members, the ACFE is reducing business fraud world-wide and inspiring public confidence in the integrity and objectivity within the profession.

Forensic Journals and Articles

  • Forensic Science - Erroneous Handwriting Opinions?

    Sometimes corners are cut when utilizing forensic science to "solve" an issue at hand. This can lead to life affecting mistakes as well as expensive blunders. It is important to utilize all the tools available in order to reach a valid forensic opinion

  • Forensic Science - The Good and the Bad

    Like any field, forensic science has both good and bad practitioners. If analysis results are based on science, and science is exact, then how can there be opposing experts in litigations?

  • The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology

    Features original articles on new examination and documentation procedures, as well as provocative discussions of the forensic pathologist's expanding role–in human rights protection, suicide and drug abuse prevention, occupational and environmental health, and other key areas. Unique special features include case reports, technical notes on new examination devices, and reports of medicolegal practices worldwide.

Forensic Books

More Information about Forensic Science

  • Computer Forensics World

    Computer Forensics World is a growing community of professionals involved in the digital forensics industry. It is an open resource, free for all to access and to use. It strongly encourages the sharing of information and peer to peer assistance.

  • DNA Forensics

    Information about forensic identification --how it works, understanding accuracies, interesting uses, and forensic databases such as CODIS.

  • Education in Forensic Science

    More and more people are becoming interested in the field of forensic science. Some are interested in entering the field as a career, others need the information for adjunct professions such as the law or law enforcement, and the rest are simply attempting to make some sense out of the increasingly technical news reports that emanate from the media. Our goal is to provide both the professional and lay community with educational and expert resources in the field of forensic science.

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