The American Academy of Forensic Sciences holy war against Forensic Pathology

Not too long ago, a contrived study was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences that was used as a pretext to claim racial bias on the part of the forensic pathology community.   This paper was embarrassingly bad.  And when I say embarrassing, I don’t mean toilet-paper-on-the-shoe embarrassing.  I mean masturbating to pictures of coworkers during a zoom meeting embarrassing.  In my opinion, of course.  I’m not going to critique the paper here.  There was a flurry of comments and responses in the journal, and interested parties can search for it.  I’m not going to refer directly to the paper, because I don’t believe it deserves the publicity.  This post is for forensic pathologists, not really for the general public, and you all know the paper.

The paper is so bad that I don’t think it alone will be a significant threat to forensic pathology practice or the reputation of the profession.  People who are obsessed with this race stuff will jump on it, but they don’t care about science anyway.  I think that anybody who looks at it from a scientific perspective will see that it is junk.

But it brings up a larger point.  The publication of this risible article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences represents a nadir for its parent organization, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).  It is a change that I have seen growing over the past decade or two. It is a bad one.

When the AAFS was started many years ago, it was an organization where experts from disparate forensic fields could get together, socialize, cross-pollinate, stay abreast of what is going on in forensics in the broad sense, and act in a collegial manner.   However, a decade or so ago, things started to change.  Instead of seeing itself primarily as a collegial organization, it started acting like it wanted to become one of those paragovernmental regulatory organizations that are used to limit and police disciplines.  Instead of focusing on cross pollination, teaching, and collegiality, it started worrying about developing standards determined by “stakeholders”, instituting rules, and, of most concern, being a platform for people in one discipline to criticize and complain about other disciplines.

One of the more egregious examples is the cognitive sciences group, which put a target on the backs of a number of other disciplines.  Among these was forensic pathology.  Waving the flag of “cognitive bias,” this group started attacking other disciplines, with the enthusiastic support of other groups, such as the defense lawyers in the organization.  This propaganda campaign was supported by the AAFS to the point that the AAFS organized a plenary session on the crisis of “cognitive bias” in forensic pathology without bothering to invite a forensic pathologist on the panel.  Instead, there would just be an hour of lawyers and cognitive science folk on the stage bitching about how they didn’t like how forensic pathologists did forensic pathology.  Eventually, the forensic pathology group protested and a forensic pathologist was allowed to respond to the AAFS attacks, but only after we complained.

Since then, there has been a concerted program of workshops, lectures, and activities at the AAFS meetings with the aim of attacking the practice of forensic pathology.  It has culminated in the AAFS publishing this ridiculous paper that makes a mockery of scientific investigation, in my opinion.   When a group of 70 pathologists wrote a letter demanding retraction of this piece of pseudoscience, the AAFS decided to stand by the paper as written.  There is no question where the AAFS stands in this now.

This is a watershed, I believe.  Forensic pathologists should seriously be asking themselves whether or not they want to be part of an organization that has decided to work to destroy their profession’s integrity, professionalism, and independence.  Do they want to support an organization that is trying to make forensic pathology subject to the whims of defense lawyers, activists who are ignorant of the field, and people with political goals that have nothing to do with good medicine.  The AAFS has changed from an organization that supports forensic disciplines and provides a place for collegiality into a place that enthusiastically supports a coterie of activists who want to control and force disciplines to fit their social and political agendas.

This is very dangerous for the practice of medicine. It is anti-scientific and destructive. This subjugation of science to political and social activism is something reminiscent of science in the Soviet Union.

Those forensic pathologists who are concerned with this trend should seriously consider whether or not their support of, and membership in, the AAFS is in their best interests or in the best interests of forensic pathology.  It may not be wise to give money and support to an organization whose goal, I believe, has become the destruction of the integrity and independence of our profession.

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