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Blood, Powder, and Residue

How Crime Labs Translate Evidence into Proof

Beth A. Bechky

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Geisteswissenschaften, Kunst, Musik / Pädagogik


A rare behind-the-scenes look at the work of forensic scientists

The findings of forensic science—from DNA profiles and chemical identifications of illegal drugs to comparisons of bullets, fingerprints, and shoeprints—are widely used in police investigations and courtroom proceedings. While we recognize the significance of this evidence for criminal justice, the actual work of forensic scientists is rarely examined and largely misunderstood. Blood, Powder, and Residue goes inside a metropolitan crime laboratory to shed light on the complex social forces that underlie the analysis of forensic evidence.

Drawing on eighteen months of rigorous fieldwork in a crime lab of a major metro area, Beth Bechky tells the stories of the forensic scientists who struggle to deliver unbiased science while under intense pressure from adversarial lawyers, escalating standards of evidence, and critical public scrutiny. Bechky brings to life the daily challenges these scientists face, from the painstaking screening and testing of evidence to making communal decisions about writing up the lab report, all while worrying about attorneys asking them uninformed questions in court. She shows how the work of forensic scientists is fraught with the tensions of serving justice—constantly having to anticipate the expectations of the world of law and the assumptions of the public—while also staying true to their scientific ideals.

Blood, Powder, and Residue offers a vivid and sometimes harrowing picture of the lives of highly trained experts tasked with translating their knowledge for others who depend on it to deliver justice.

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Master's degree, Participant observation, Forensic biology, Sociology, Evidence (law), Apprenticeship, Processing (programming language), Mass spectrometry, Science Friday, Calculation, Physical Evidence, Robbery, Chain of custody, Electropherogram, Decision-making, Biology, Trace evidence, Science studies, Intention (criminal law), Crime scene, Lawyer, Police, Blood alcohol content, Fingerprint, Phosphoric acid, Pundit, Criminal justice, Courtroom, Polymerase chain reaction, Dye pack, Sexual assault, Police officer, Database, Law enforcement agency, Procedural law, Defendant, Paul DiMaggio, Grandparent, Criticism, Toxicology, Credential, Field research, Microscopy, District attorney, Criminal procedure, Career, Accreditation, Funding, Recommendation (European Union), Expert witness, Rape kit, Urine, Publication, Supervisor, Firearm (tool), His Family, Jurisdiction, Credibility, Reagent, Scientific Working Group, Firearm, Scientific method, DNA profiling, Professional association, Ethnography, Brandon Mayfield, Prosecutor, Annie Dookhan, Comparison microscope, Organization, Requirement, Burglary, Forensic science, Uncertainty, Narcotic, Gas chromatography, Scientist, Bachelor's degree, Science, Microscope, Gunshot residue, Measurement, Scientific community, Criminal law, Detection, Explanation, Crime lab, Result, Computer, Forensic toxicology, Jury trial, Law enforcement, Textbook, Jury, Writing, Capillary electrophoresis, Determination, MDMA, Criminal investigation, Technology