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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

SCIENCE BRIEFS

By Varsity Contributor
Published: 9:00 am, 23 January 2002
Modified: 4 pm, 11 January 2012
under
UPDATED

Fingerprints not scientific: judge

In a stunning announcement, a federal judge in the U.S. has ruled that fingerprint analysis does not constitute a scientific means of investigating crime.

According to Supreme Court statutes, the results of an investigative technique can only be considered as “scientific evidence” if the technique conforms to four criteria: it must be testable; its validity can be subjected to review by other scientists; its accuracy can be measured reliably by known rates of error and the procedures involved are “generally recognized as science.”

In a recent murder trial in which fingerprints were submitted as evidence, a Pennsylvania judge decided that since the fingerprint examiners who work in crime labs do not constitute a proper scientific community, their methods—only discussed within that group—had never been subjected to a proper peer review process.

Critics fear that the ruling will cast doubt on the validity of other forensic methods, like ballistics techniques and tool matching

Twinkle, twinkle, little (fake) star

To help them calibrate the telescope in the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, U.S. researchers have generated an artificial “star” that glows 100 kilometres above the earth’s surface.

A new 18-watt laser shoots a yellow beam of light straight up from the observatory; it’s too weak to be seen with the naked eye, but when reflected off the swirls of space dust that circle just above the atmosphere, it produces a metre-wide blotch that looks much like a star from the Earth’s surface.

Telescopes are often fooled by the distorting effects of gases in the atmosphere.

The laser light will allow the Keck Observatory to focus correctly, since the spot of reflected light is located beyond any atmospheric gas.