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Jay D. Aronson. Genetic Witness: Science, Law, and Controversy in the Making of DNA Profiling. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007. 304 pp. $23.95 paper.
Reviewed by David S. Caudill
While the literature on forensic DNA technologies is substantial, Aronson’s Genetic Witness brings the unique perspective of a historian of science to the field. Aronson traces the 20-year history of DNA in the courtroom, including the initial (and predominant) involvement of private companies in the development of DNA profiling, the shift to governmental agency control of DNA identification techniques, the early conflicts within the scientific community, and the gradual establishment of DNA evidence within the legal system as the “gold standard” for proof. After briefly explaining how DNA profiling works, Aronson revisits the dramatic criminal cases in which DNA evidence was alternately challenged and validated. Nowadays, Aronson concludes, DNA profiling is viewed uncritically as a “truth machine,” not only for prosecutors proving guilt but also for defense counsel proving the innocence of some who were convicted on the basis of inferior forensic techniques. Without challenging DNA science, however, Aronson is able to demonstrate that the potential for serious laboratory, human, and interpretation errors remains.
Geologic sample of Tourmaline
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