Forensic scientists and related professionals have varied training and experience regarding ethics that is not always based on formal education. Current trends in education affect how society views the competence of forensic scientists; what degrees, certifications, and training are standard or should be the minimum expectation? Competence of expert witnesses is determined by a judge, who decides if a scientist qualifies as an expert, or the jury, which decides if the expert’s testimony is reliable. The topics of competency and scientific integrity have gained importance among professionals as well as academicians. For example, are unethical actions taken because a person intends to deceive or because he or she simply does not know any better? Has the person chosen the answer that they thought was more right but not taken the proper steps afterward? The scientific community has a responsibility to society to address such issues for the profession to maintain the highest possible integrity. Society will have a better idea of how things have gone wrong in the past, how to prevent future problems, and how to change the overall course of unethical behavior. The accountability shown by the scientific community demonstrates that, although no profession is perfect, at least the field of forensic science has safeguards in place and is forward thinking in regard to proper behavior and procedures.
Credibility of forensic scientists depends on the reliability and accuracy of the work performed. It is often difficult for laypersons to believe that forensic scientists remain objective based on the nature of the cases in which they work. For instance, can a forensic scientist remain impartial when investigating a child molestation case? Some people believe that the scientist should have no details of a case, whereas others think that the details are necessary for examinations.
Forensic scientists do not make evidence objective through analysis; bias may have been applied in collecting evidence in the field due to pressures such as time, expectations, and/or cognitive bias. Bias often carries a negative connotation, yet it is a concept that must be addressed in forensic science. It is the inclination for, or against, someone or something. Cognitive bias and confirmation bias are topics that have gained attention in the forensic profession. Business Dictionary defines cognitive bias as the tendency to acquire and process information by filtering it through one’s own experiences; forensic disciplines such as crime scene investigation and pattern recognition may be subject to cognitive bias as examiners utilize their knowledge, skills, and experience to formulate decisions (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/cognitive-bias.html). Confirmation bias is the tendency to filter information to retain only what confirms to one’s preferences and to reject that does not per Business Dictionary (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/confirmation- bias.html). It is a topic of interest when considering peer review in forensic science and verification methods that are common in disciplines such as latent fingerprint identification. Scientists cannot completely control the process but can assure that personnel are properly trained and aware that bias may exist in their work. There is a great deal of pressure for scientists to remain accurate, efficient, and as forthright as possible. Many cases of ethics are not about what is right or wrong as much as they are about which choice is more right or less wrong. Unlike science, ethics is a subjective discipline that creates issues that are hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Due to the subjective nature of ethics, people often question the credibility of professionals who report misconduct, who are involved in investigating misconduct, and who manage people who have been reported for unethical behavior.