When the Interpol Forensic Science Symposium is held this year, top forensic professionals from around the globe will be center stage. Count representatives from the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics among them.

Dr. Max Houck and Dr. Paul Speaker will play important roles in this year’s meeting, held Oct. 4-8 at Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, France. Interpol invited WVU’s participation, demonstrating the University’s reputation as a leader in the forensics industry.

“The symposium provides an overview of current research to all delegates at the conference, many of which are from developing countries,” said Houck, director of the WVU Forensic Science Initiative and director of Forensic Business Development the College. “It’s a good way for them, and all attendees, to stay current in the field. For WVU to have such a role on this international stage demonstrates our leadership in the business of forensics.”

Interpol has 188 member countries and holds the symposium every three years. The event not only provides a platform for the presentation of reviews of scientific literature, but also presents several thematic sessions that focus on important topics facing forensic science. Houck is on the organizing committee for the overall symposium and also chairs the session on Effectiveness and Efficiency. Speaker is presenting results from WVU’s FORESIGHT research project, a business-guided self-evaluation of forensic science laboratories across North America, representing local, regional, state, and federal agencies. Speaker’s presentation will be given during the Effectiveness and Efficiency session, a live presentation that will be translated into Spanish, French and Arabic much like presentations and speeches at the United Nations. Speaker said WVU’s initiative includes two facets — the forensics of business and the business of forensics.

“The forensics of business aspect at WVU includes the forensic accounting and fraud investigation certificate program and business valuation courses,” said Speaker, an associate professor of finance. “The business of forensics aspect includes the FORESIGHT research project and the Forensic Management Academy, where we introduce business skills to forensic scientists, who are in desperate need of good business decision-making skills.”

Forensic professionals at WVU have often discussed a phenomenon known as the “CSI Effect” with colleagues across the nation and around the world. The international popularity of the three different “CSI” television programs, as well as programs like “Forensic Files” and “The New Detectives,” has created a problem for the forensics industry. Speaker said programs like CSI have put incredible pressure on the forensic laboratories to perform, without increasing their budgets. Many labs have experienced budget cuts and personnel furloughs. He added that the forensic science industry faces the classic economic problem—unlimited demand versus limited resources.

“A jury thinks that a crime lab can do all of these magical things because that’s what they’ve seen on TV,” he said. “The reality is that the lab doesn’t have the budget to conduct all of those amazing tests.”

Houck said that labs may operate completely differently in terms of priorities, costs and performance, and that affects their ability to compare processes for improvement. He explained that, as with any relatively young industry, there should be a standardization of terminology industry-wide. He is also pushing for the standardization of measurement for the purposes of comparison and collaboration, so that labs can compare forensic results and collaborate on cases and projects.

“They aren’t comparing apples to oranges, but more like apples to Buicks,” Houck said, “making it tough for them to share solutions.”

“WVU is really the first university to approach this in a systematic fashion. Nobody has said, ‘Let’s treat forensics as an industry.’ We aim to remedy that through the FORESIGHT research project.”

“The goal is to improve the quality, effectiveness and timeliness of the laboratories. As far as collaboration goes, the goal is to get the labs to talk to each other and help each other once they have established a common ‘language.’ That would be a huge step,” he said.



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CONTACT: Patrick Gregg
(304) 293-5131