The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced a massive reevaluation of the forensic sciences two years ago. They would conduct investigations of 10 major forensic sub-disciplines, and issue suggestions for improving the empirical foundations of each. It was potentially “transformational” to the American justice system.

But after two reports this year, the undertaking has been discontinued, according to the AAAS and the foundation that was funding it.

“We haven’t been able to continue quite as planned,” said Jessica Wyndham, the interim director of the AAAS’s Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program (SRHRL). “We do think that the work that we’ve done, and that we could continue to do, would have an important impact and make an important contribution.”

The funding was provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation of Texas.

The backing was withdrawn because the full project couldn’t be completed, said David Hebert, a spokesman for the Foundation.

“We determined that it would not be possible for the American Association for the Advancement of Science to accomplish the purpose of the grant as originally anticipated, and we discussed this with the group’s leadership,” Hebert said in a short statement to Forensic Magazine.

Ten subject areas were originally slated: first up were expected to be ballistics and tool mark analysis, along with latent fingerprints and arson investigations.

The following seven were to be: bloodstain pattern analysis, digital evidence, footwear and tire tracks, bitemark analysis, fiber evidence, hair evidence, and trace evidence of paint and other coatings.

The reports issued this year focused on arson investigations and latent fingerprints. But the ballistics and tool mark report was not completed, Wyndham said in an interview.

The AAAS leadership said the topics were picked in response to the watershed 2009 report from the National Research Council entitled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.”

The AAAS said at the time that it expected to complete the initial reports in 18 to 24 months. But Wyndham said last week that time required proved their scheduling wrong. The group could not proceed all at once with the 10 subjects, and the arson and fingerprints publications took two years to complete.

If they can get funding, two or three further subjects would be of interest to the AAAS, not the full remaining eight. The AAAS has already begun “assessment of what is and what is not supported by sound science,” she said.  

“We are interested in building on what we’ve done so far,” said Wyndham. “We are exploring what areas to pursue next.”