Truth Machine: The Contentious History of DNA Fingerprinting

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Overview

"DNA profiling - commonly known as DNA fingerprinting - is often heralded as unassailable criminal evidence, a veritable "truth machine" that can overturn convictions based on eyewitness testimony, confessions, and other forms of forensic evidence. But DNA evidence is far from infallible. It is subject to the same possibilities for error - in sample collection, forensic analysis, and clerical record keeping - as any other procedure in criminal justice practice." Truth Machine traces the controversial history of DNA fingerprinting by looking at court cases in the United States and United Kingdom beginning in the mid-1980s, when the practice was invented, and continuing until the present. Using interviews, observations of courtroom trials and laboratory processes, and documentary reconstruction, the authors provide a nuanced, theoretically sophisticated, and original ethnographic account of DNA fingerprinting and its evolution.
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Editorial Reviews

Time Higher Education Supplement
This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of science.

— Charalambos P. Kyriacou

Nature
At the heart of Truth Machine lies the fundamental debate about the evaluation of probabilistic risk. The book examines the use of DNA tests in legal proceedings and the development of DNA-profiling methods in the United Kingdom and the United States....Truth Machine is an interesting read — it illustrates that the controversy of DNA profiling is rooted not in the science, but mainly in the restrictions of the adversarial system.

— Peter Gill

Choice

2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

"It presents vital information for those in the legal professions who need to understand opposing attorneys' arguments in both criminal and civil cases involving DNA. . . . Laypersons interested in crime and DNA will find it interesting."

Law and Politics Book Review
Every scholar interested in science and law will find much of value in Truth Machine. It is a sophisticated book that does not easily fit standard courses, although it could be used for advanced seminars that explore the intersection of law and science. . . . Teachers of criminal law who wish to gain a sophisticated understanding of DNA as evidence will find the book extremely valuable.

— Marvin Zalman

American Journal of Human Biology
[The book] could potentially serve as a useful text for students studying the fields of Science and Technology Studies or for those interested in pursuing careers in forensic law.

— John J. Love

Critical Policy Studies
The book reminds us that the processes of making truth and power are usually not such that science drives policy, or law drives practices; but rather science, law, policies. and practices mutually constitute each other. . . . This book is an illustration of how much we can learn when this interaction is taken seriously.

— Barbara Prainsack

Time Higher Education Supplement - Charalambos P. Kyriacou

"This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of science."

Nature - Peter Gill

"At the heart of Truth Machine lies the fundamental debate about the evaluation of probabilistic risk. The book examines the use of DNA tests in legal proceedings and the development of DNA-profiling methods in the United Kingdom and the United States....Truth Machine is an interesting read — it illustrates that the controversy of DNA profiling is rooted not in the science, but mainly in the restrictions of the adversarial system."

Law and Politics Book Review - Marvin Zalman

"Every scholar interested in science and law will find much of value in Truth Machine. It is a sophisticated book that does not easily fit standard courses, although it could be used for advanced seminars that explore the intersection of law and science. . . . Teachers of criminal law who wish to gain a sophisticated understanding of DNA as evidence will find the book extremely valuable."

American Journal of Human Biology - John J. Love

"[The book] could potentially serve as a useful text for students studying the fields of Science and Technology Studies or for those interested in pursuing careers in forensic law."

Critical Policy Studies - Barbara Prainsack

"The book reminds us that the processes of making truth and power are usually not such that science drives policy, or law drives practices; but rather science, law, policies. and practices mutually constitute each other. . . . This book is an illustration of how much we can learn when this interaction is taken seriously."

Choice

2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

"It presents vital information for those in the legal professions who need to understand opposing attorneys' arguments in both criminal and civil cases involving DNA. . . . Laypersons interested in crime and DNA will find it interesting."

Nature

"At the heart of Truth Machine lies the fundamental debate about the evaluation of probabilistic risk. The book examines the use of DNA tests in legal proceedings and the development of DNA-profiling methods in the United Kingdom and the United States....Truth Machine is an interesting read — it illustrates that the controversy of DNA profiling is rooted not in the science, but mainly in the restrictions of the adversarial system."—Peter Gill, Nature

— Peter Gill

Law and Politics Book Review

"Every scholar interested in science and law will find much of value in Truth Machine. It is a sophisticated book that does not easily fit standard courses, although it could be used for advanced seminars that explore the intersection of law and science. . . . Teachers of criminal law who wish to gain a sophisticated understanding of DNA as evidence will find the book extrmely valuable."

— Marvin Zalman

American Journal of Human Biology

"[The book] could potentially serve as a useful text for students studying the fields of Science and Technology Studies or for those interested in pursuing careers in forensic law."

— John J. Love

Time Higher Education Supplement

"This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of science."—Charalambos P. Kyriacou, Times Higher Education Supplement

— Charalambos P. Kyriacou

Critical Policy Studies

"The book reminds us that the processes of making truth and power are usually not such that science drives policy, or law drives practices; but rather science, law, policies. and practices mutually constitute each other. . . . This book is an illustration of how much we can learn when this interaction is taken seriously."

— Barbara Prainsack

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226498065
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Lynch is professor in the Science & Technology Studies Department at Cornell University. Simon Cole is the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification. Ruth McNally is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics at Lancaster University. Kathleen Jordan has a Ph.D. in sociology from Boston University and is currently a student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

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Table of Contents


Ch. 1 A Revolution in Forensic Science? 1 Interlude A DNA Profiling Techniques 24 Ch. 2 A Techno-Legal Controversy 39 Interlude B Admissibility, Controversy, and Judicial Metascience 69 Ch. 3 Molecular Biology and the Dispersion of Technique 83 Ch. 4 Chains of Custody and Administrative Objectivity 113 Interlude C The U.K. National DNA Database 142 Ch. 5 Deconstructing Probability in the Case R. v. Deen 155 Interlude D Bayesians, Frequentists, and the DNA Database Search Controversy 183 Ch. 6 Science, Common Sense, and DNA Evidence 190 Ch. 7 Fixing Controversy, Performing Closure 220 Ch. 8 Postclosure 256 Interlude E Fingerprinting and Probability 293 Ch. 9 Fingerprinting: An Inversion of Credibility 302 Ch. 10 Finality? 335 Cases 347 References 349 Index 379
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