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17-May-2016

The Atlantic magazine on "The False Promise of DNA Testing"

Washington, DC

Journalist Matthew Shaer writes in the June issue of The Atlantic about "The False Promise of DNA Testing," reporting on how the forensic technique is becoming ever more common – and ever less reliable. He shows problems with DNA mixtures (of two or more people), where subjective data interpretation gives wrong answers.

Shaer interviewed many scholars and scientists, including Dr. Mark Perlin of Cybergenetics. Perlin described the accurate TrueAllele technology for objectively interpreting DNA mixtures by the "complete removal of the human being from doing any subjective decision making."

TrueAllele can reprocess crime laboratory data once dismissed as inconclusive. "You hear the word inconclusive, you naturally think, Okay. It’s done," Perlin told Shaer. "But it’s not! It just means [the lab technicians] can’t interpret it. Let me ask you: What’s the societal impact of half a crime lab’s evidence being called inconclusive, and prosecutors and police and defenders mistakenly believing that this means it’s uninformative data?"

Shaer spoke with the mother of a young Houston man who was wrongfully convicted through "systemic failures" of DNA interpretation in the police crime lab. He asked her if she blamed DNA. She laughed and said, "Oh, no, honey. DNA is science. You can’t blame DNA. You can only blame the people who used it wrong."

Links

  • The false promise of DNA testing - The Atlantic
  • Overcoming bias in DNA mixture interpretation - AAFS talk
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