NEWS (back to top)
CSTL MEMBER NEWS (back to top)
CSTL Welcomes New Members
CSTL welcomes new members Sherwood Boehlert (Congressman [retired], U.S. House of Representatives), Claude Canizares (Vice President for Research, Associate Provost, and Bruno Rossi Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Jeremy Fogel (Director, The Federal Judicial Center), Wallace Loh (President, University of Maryland, College Park), Margaret Marshall (Chief Justice [retired], Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court), Cherry Murray (Dean, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University), Roberta Ness (Dean and M. David Low Chair in Public Health, University of Texas School of Public Health), David Relman (Thomas C.
and Joan M. Merigan Professor, Departments of Medicine, and of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University; Chief, Infectious Disease Section, VA Palo Alto Health Care System), and Richard Revesz (Dean and Lawrence King Professor, New York University School of Law).
CSTL Member Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. Elected to American Philosophical Society
On April 29, 2011, CSTL member Ben Heineman, Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, was elected a Class 5 Resident Member of the American Philosophical Society (APS). The election recognizes Mr. Heineman's extraordinary accomplishments in
law. The APS Class 5 membership includes representatives from the Arts, Professions, and Leaders in Public and Private Affairs. Established in 1743, the APS is the United States' first learned society. It "promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach."
Stanford University Establishes David Korn, M.D., Professorship in Pathology
In June 2011, the Stanford University Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the David Korn, M.D., Professorship in Pathology in the university's Department of Pathology. The professorship recognizes Dr. Korn’s many contributions to the Department of Pathology, the Stanford
University School of Medicine, and the broader pathology community. On November 2, following the conclusion of a symposium on pathology convened in honor of Dr. Korn, an investiture ceremony was held at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Korn has been a member of CSTL since its inception and has served as co-chair since 2009.
CSTL Co-Chair Richard Meserve Elected to Russian Academy of Sciences
In January, CSTL co-chair Richard A. Meserve was elected a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the section which includes the fields of radiation safety, energy development, and environmental protection. Dr. Meserve has had an active engagement with the Russian Academy on, among others,
projects related to the control of weapons-usable nuclear materials and on nuclear safety and security. "I am greatly honored to be elected a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy," he said. "The linkage between the U.S. Academies and the Russian Academy has been enormously valuable to both countries over the years and I am pleased to be recognized by my Russian colleagues in this way." The Russian Academy of Sciences was founded by Peter the Great and has approximately 250 Foreign Members.
High Fences Around Narrow Areas
In a January 15th editorial for The Chronicle of Higher Education
entitled "A Delicate Balance That Must Tip Toward Safety," CSTL member Alice Gast considered the complexity of balancing public health and safety with the need for openness in the scientific community. Dr. Gast, writing in response to a National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommendation that detailed information describing a form of the H5N1 avian influenza virus transmissible through air be removed from two journal articles, suggested that such research may be an instance where risks "outweigh the benefits of open sharing of information." Scientists, Gast notes, have long called for "high fences around narrow areas" so that
research of concern might be shared "with reliable scientists who will build upon and test the results" while simultaneously preventing the release of insights "that might arm people with destructive motives." Gast suggests that the desired outcome could be achieved by "strengthening institutional biosafety committees at universities and ensuring that they have the necessary training to evaluate national-security issues." Such an approach was recommended in the 2007 CSTL report
Science and Security in a Post 9/11 World. Dr. Gast was co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.
Improving the Communication of Science
In a December 16th Science
editorial entitled "Science and Law: Rattled by Quakes," former CSTL member Joel Cohen offered his reflections on how "scientific information is conveyed to the public and how well policy-makers and lawyers understand the nature of science." Referring to the case of the recent indictment of scientists for their failure to effectively communicate to the public the risk of severe earthquakes in the town of L'Aquila, Italy, Cohen, citing the 1989 NRC report
Improving Risk Communication
, emphasized the importance of "replacing one-way communication from experts to non-experts with an 'interactive process of exchange of information and opinion.'" "Natural scientists," Cohen writes, "must...be educated to work with engineers, social scientists..., and public administrators to determine and communicate the consequences of applying or ignoring scientific findings. Lawmakers and judges," he continues,"need to understand what natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, and public adminstration can and cannot offer." Citing two CSTL projects, the
Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence and a January 2012 roundtable discussion on the development of a science course for professional schools, as innovative approaches towards achieving this goal, Cohen called for additional efforts in this area.
CSTL EVENTS (back to top)
March 2012 CSTL Meeting
The next meeting of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law will be held on March 26-27, 2012 in Washington, DC. The meeting will feature panel discussions of the following topics: 1) Microbial Forensics: What the Courts Need to Know; 2) The Fourth Amendment: Are Advances in Science and Technology Challenging Our Notion of Privacy?; 3) Biology and Medicine as Information Sciences: A Revolution for Medicine?; 4) Does the Biomedical Research Enterprise Need an Overhaul?; and 5) Longevity, Aging, and The Cost of End of Life Care. In addition to the panel discussions, the Committee will host a lunchtime conversation with Dr. Harold E.
Varmus, Director of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. For more information about the March and future meetings, please contact Steven Kendall at 202-334-1713 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roundtable Discussion on the Development of a Science Course for Professional Schools
On January 12, 2012, CSTL hosted a roundtable discussion to consider how best to improve scientific literacy among legal, policy and business decision-makers. The discussion, which included representatives from foundations, the judiciary, law, public policy, and science, was moderated by Bruce Alberts, former President of the National Academy of Sciences, Editor-in-Chief, Science
and Professor Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco and Paul Brest, President, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Professor Emeritus, Stanford Law School. Discussion focused on best methods for teaching core scientific competencies to students at law, public policy, business, and other professional schools. To broaden the discussion, CSTL proposes to convene a workshop to further explore this important issue.
Synthetic Biology for the Next Generation
On behalf of the National Academy of Sciences and with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, CSTL and the Board on Life Sciences (BLS) is organizing, in conjunction with the National Academy of Engineering, the British Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Chinese
Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, three high-level international symposia to address next-generation policy challenges for synthetic biology. The first symposium, entitled The Economic and Social Life of Synthetic Biology
, was held in London at the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering on April 13-14, 2011. The second symposium, entitled Enabling Technology for Synthetic Biology, was held in Shanghai at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences and the National Engineering Centre for Biochip on
October 12-14, 2011. On June 12-13, 2012, The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering will host the final symposium in the series. The symposium, entitled Synthetic Biology for the Next Generation, will be held at the newly restored National Academy of Sciences building on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It will feature the following sessions:
- Overviews of Research in Key Fields
- Organizational Business Strategies in Support of Synthetic Biology
- National Strategies in Support of Synthetic Biology
- Synthetic Biology in the Political Process
- Creating the Social Contract
- Addressing Fundamental Questions in Biology
- Addressing Fundamental Needs in Engineering
- Community, Leadership, and Growth
- Governance: Needs Beyond the Bench
- Enabling Synthetic Biology: Identifying Critical Issues for the Field’s Success
For more information on the symposia series, visit http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/stl/synthetic_biology/index.htm. Register to attend the U.S. symposium at
CSTL IMPACT (back to top)
The CSTL Forensic Science Report Three Years Later
Three years after its release in February 2009, the CSTL report
Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States continues to have broad ranging impact...
On December 7, 2011 the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a full committee hearing entitled "Turning the Investigation on the Science of Forensics.
" The hearing examined "the science of forensic disciplines, the need for scientific research and enforceable national standards, and other challenges faced by the forensic science community." Two members of the committee that wrote the forensic science report, Co-chair Constantine Gatsonis (Henry Ledyard Goddard University Professor of Biostatistics at Brown University) and member Geoffrey Mearns (Provost of Cleveland State University) testified about shortcomings in forensic science and the need for systemic reform.
In a favorable December 2011 review of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL) for participation in the NRC Research Associateship Programs
, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) noted the lab's intention "to help advance" forensic science "by providing higher level research and rigor in the existing forensic scientific methods." USACIL cited the CSTL forensic science report as an impetus for this directive. In related news, President Obama's FY 2013 budget request for NIST, which was submitted to Congress on February 13th, includes a request for $5M for "measurement science and standards in support of forensic science." The CSTL report called for "the development and establishment of quantifiable measures of reliability and accuracy of forensic analysis."
in the media...
The forensic science report continues to receive media attention. The report was referenced, for instance, in two recent episodes of Anderson Cooper 360°. The first episode, "Is Blood Spatter Evidence Junk Science?
", which aired on December 20th, raised questions about the reliability of bloodstain analysis. The second episode, which was broadcast a day later, documented a case where "Bite Marks Led to Wrongful Conviction
." The CSTL report had noted that, in many cases, the interpretation of bloadstain patterns is "difficult or impossible." The report further observed that "bite marks on the skin will change over time and can be distorted by the elasticity of the skin, the uneveness of the surface bite, and swelling and healing." "These features," the report concluded, "may severely limit the validity of forensic odontology" (bitemark analysis).
in legal professions...
At its mid-year meeting on February 6th, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted new policies which bear directly upon the presentation of forensic evidence in legal settings. The Association urged "federal, state, territorial, and local governments to adopt pretrial discovery procedures requiring laboratories to produce comprehensive and comprehensible laboratory and forensic science reports for use in criminal trials" (
Resolution 101B); elucidated factors which should be considered "in determining the manner in which expert testimony should be presented to a jury and in instructing the jury in its evaluation of expert scientific testimony in criminal and delinquency proceedings (
Resolution 101C); and urged "judges and lawyers to consider" a number of "factors in formulating jury voir dire
in criminal cases where forensic science evidence is contested," including "jurors’ understanding of general scientific principles and specific scientific principles relevant to the forensic science evidence that may be presented at trial, including specialized training, knowledge or education in the specific scientific discipline used in the case" (Resolution 101D
). The CSTL report called for the establishment of "model laboratory reports" and "standard terminology...in reporting on and testifying about the results of forensic science investigations." Furthermore, the report called for mandatory "laboratory accreditation and individual certification of forensic science professionals." "No person (public or private)," the report continued, "should be allowed to practice in a forensic science discipline or testify as a forensic science professional without certification."
On December 14, 2011, Sir Anthony Campbell, former judge of the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland, published his report of The Fingerprint Inquiry, Scotland
. The Inquiry was set up to fulfill the Scottish Government's "commitment to hold an independent, public, judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the" case of Shirley McKie, a police officer prosecuted for perjury for her claim that a partial fingerprint recovered at a murder scene did not belong to her. While McKie was found not guilty, questions about "
shortcomings in the identification and verification of fingerprints" (friction ridge analysis) in the case prompted Scottish Ministers to convene an inquiry to investigate "the steps taken to verify the fingerprints associated with the case."
The Inquiry report makes extensive reference to the findings of the CSTL forensic science report in regard to the admissibility of friction ridge analysis. In keeping with the forensic science report, the Inquiry report raises serious questions about the infallibilty of fingerprint evidence.
Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence
Almost immediately after its release in September, the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Third Edition, was cited in legal proceedings. The manual, which was
developed by CSTL in collaboration with the Federal Judicial Center to assist judges with the management of cases involving complex scientific and technical evidence, was cited in October in Bell v. Ercole, a case before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. In December, the manual was referenced by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in ATA Airlines Inc v. Federal Express Corporation.
In the five months since its release, nearly 8,000 electronic copies of the manual have been downloaded without charge from the National Academies Press. In addition, almost 4,000 copies of the manual have been purchased and an additional 500 copies have downloaded by developing countries.
CSTL Anthrax Report Featured on PBS FRONTLINE and CNN
On October 11, 2011, PBS began airing an episode of FRONTLINE entitled The Anthrax Files
. The episode, which revisited the mailing of anthrax spores to the members of the U.S. media and government a decade ago, featured an interview with Dr. Alice Gast, chair of the CSTL/Board on Life Sciences committee that authored the NRC report
Review of the Scientific Approaches Used During the FBI's Investigation of the 2001 Anthrax Letters
. The NRC report had determined that it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax in letters based solely on the available scientific evidence. The report was also featured in a CNN documentary that premiered on October 2. The CNN piece, entitled Death by Mail: The Anthrax Letters, included an interview with Dr. Nancy Connell, a member of the committee chaired by Dr. Gast.
Neuroscience and The Law
In December, the Royal Society released
Brainwaves Module 4: Neuroscience and The Law. The "report sets out some of the areas where neuroscience might be of relevance [in legal settings], along with some of the limits to its application." The volume references both the neuroscience chapter of third edition of the
Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence
and the chapter entitled "How Science Works." The neuroscience chapter (a new addition in the third edition of the manual) considers many of the same topics raised by the Royal Society publication. Previously, in 2011, the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences had covened a forum
on the topic of neuroscience and the law at The National Academies' Beckman Center in California.