Forensic scientists play a key role in criminal investigations. Fingerprints collected from a suspect will be compared to fingerprints collected at the crime scene after being developed in the lab by a forensic scientist.

September 21, 2006
Writer: David C. Collins, PhD

Forensic science applies science principles, techniques, and methods to the investigation of crime. A lesser known definition of the adjective forensic is anything argumentative or debatable. At first, this definition of forensic may seem to have no connection with the more popular crime-solving definition-but it does. Legal truth is sought through the use of the adversarial system (rather than the scientific method), and decisions are made only after each side has been given an equal opportunity to argue all the issues at hand. When one of the issues being argued is a scientific analysis (using the scientific method) of an item of evidence, the debate that ensues over the science involved could be called forensic science.  Other related definitions of forensic may include (1) the use of science to aid in the resolution of legal matters and (2) a scientific analysis for the purpose of judicial resolve. For example, saying that something was forensically determined suggests the information was scientifically determined with the intent to be presented (and debated) in a court of law.  Recently the term forensic has also been used to describe many scientific investigations-even if no crime is suspected. Often these investigations are of historical significance and may or may not have legal consequences. For example, a forensic scientist may work on the discovery of the composition of ancient pottery, the detection of Renaissance art techniques, or the identification of ancient human remains. Forensic history is the use of science to answer historical questions.

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