Popcult fables aside, the examination of physical crime-scene evidence is a solemn civic obligation. We incarcerate vastly more people than any other country in the world, and criminal sentences in the United States are substantial. We should expect the evidence that our turbo-charged criminal system relies upon to be as close to airtight as possible. To abuse such basic standards would be to feed the corrosive suspicion that our criminal justice system obeys bureaucratic efficiency and local bias in preference to the patient collection and interpretation of evidence.
It comes as no small shock, then, to learn that the supposed empirical bulwark of forensic courtroom science rests on what is, at best, a creaky empirical foundation—and that in far too many successful criminal convictions, forensic evidence has been misinterpreted and manipulated to obtain swift, efficient convictions.