A critical eye on the forensic science
TV series present the prowess of forensic scientists, capable of delivering certainties from minute traces found on crime scenes. But, what is the reality? A free online course, conducted by researchers and teachers of the School of Criminal Justice at the Lausanne University, proposes to acquire a realistic and informed look.
Is DNA or a fingermarks absolute proof? How should the courts understand and use the reports provided by forensic scientists? These questions - and many more - are developed in a free online course initiated by a passionate team of researchers and teachers from the School of Criminal Justice, Faculty of Law, Public Administration and Criminal Justice, at UNIL.
This video course is aimed to everyone and does not require any prerequisites. It will be of interest to CSI fans as well as police and justice professionals (magistrates, lawyers, etc.), law students or journalists. With a total duration of fifteen hours, spread over five weeks, this course was concocted by Tacha Hicks Champod (lecturer online in forensic statistics for continuing education), Alex Biedermann (associate professor), Christophe Champod and Franco Taroni (full professors).
In the laboratories
Their MOOC (Massive online open course) is the rare opportunity to "visit" several laboratories of the School of Criminal Justice, premises that serve as a framework for training. Each course week e is devoted to a particular theme. Taking the role of actors, the four researchers offer demonstrations. For example, how are DNA samples analyzed? How are fingerprints and earprints enhanced? How does one recover firing discharge residues? With which technique, which instruments? How do you write a good report for the court? What are the possible errors? How can statistics be used without the risk of misunderstanding by non-specialists?
The training, which takes about fifteen hours in total, is fed with real-life examples, from the Dreyfus case to Amanda Knox. It also consists of presentations of the methods employed, as well as theoretical content provided by forensic science teachers. Each training week ends with a quiz, which tests the acquisition of knowledge.
Miscarriages of justice
Coming from the strict scientific framework, the MOOC offers filmed interviews with victims of miscarriages of justice, related to mistakes made in forensic expertise, or faulty interpretations of the results by the courts. However, the authors of the training do not seek to alarm us, but by showing us behind the scenes, they aim to get us out of our fascination for this high-profile discipline and alert us by giving us a critical and informed view.
It is possible to register for free on the Coursera platform, to this course called Challenging forensic science: how should science speak to court?. The French version (La Science forensique au tribunal, un témoin digne de foi ? in the language of Hercule Poirot) will be launched in early January 2019.
Those wishing to deepen their knowledge can enrol in advanced courses in English, fully available online on the website UNIL-EPFL Continuing Education platform. These are the three short formations Essentials of DNA interpretation, Essentials of forensic interpretation and Essentials of Bayesian networks in forensic science, as well as Certificate of Advanced Studies named Statistics And The Evaluation Of Forensic Evidence.
par Stéphane Boisseaux (FDCA)