Professional Publications (World of Forensic Science)
Forensic science is a fast moving field, with new techniques, theories, and information being introduced all the time. The forensic professional, whether he or she is a medical examiner, a specialist, or a laboratory technician, needs to keep up-to-date. There are several professional publications that the scientist can consult to learn about the latest research. If they so wish, they can use the journals to correspond and debate with colleagues all over the world on the latest forensic science issues. They can also build their scientific reputation, and that of their laboratory, by publishing original research. The Internet has made using professional publications much easier. Often, a paper will be published online before it appears in the print edition so that everyone can have access to it earlier. A searchable online index for a journal means that a subject can be researched easily by those who do not have ready access to an academic library. Subscriptions to journals are expensive, but most now provide a "pay for view" facility so that one can purchase a copy of an article of interest without having to visit a library or take our a subscription to a journal.
Like other academic journals, forensic science publications are usually overseen by a panel of experts whose opinions ensure that all the work published there is accurate, timely, and relevant. It is usual for all research papers to be peer-reviewed, that is, scrutinized by professionals to check the originality and quality of the research. The peer review system can lead to delays in publication, although these are now reduced as communications are handled electronically. Although peer review is open to abuse, and accusations of bias or favoritism are not unknown, it is the best guarantee that research published in a professional journal is of a high standard.
There will always be a role for the academic library for those consulting professional publications. Universities and hospitals providing postgraduate training in forensic science are likely to subscribe to at least the main journals. These will usually be shelved in the pathology section in a medical library. Forensic science publications may often be found near the chemistry section of a science library. The range of journals available is wide. There are academic journals containing important and ground-breaking research papers on the one hand and, on the other, newsletters containing items about the business of a society or association and articles of more general interest.
One of the most comprehensive and popular academic publications for the forensic scientist is the Journal of Forensic Sciences. This is the official publication of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The editors accept original investigations, observations, scholarly inquiries, and reviews. The following areas are covered by the Journal: anthropology, criminalistics, engineering, law, odontology, pathology, psychiatry, questioned documents, and toxicology. The Journal of Forensic Science began publication in 1956 and appears once every two months.
Forensic Science International is a more commercial journal and has been published since 1978. It is produced by Elsevier, an academic publisher, every two weeks. The journal's scope is broad, covering forensic pathology and histochemistry, chemistry, biochemistry and toxicology, biology (including hair and fiber analysis), serology, odontology, psychiatry, anthropology, physical sciences, firearms, and document examination. The editors accept research papers, review articles, preliminary communications, letters, book reviews, and case reports. There are also articles on specialist topics such as accident investigation and mass disaster, fingerprint evidence, toolmarks, and bite mark evidence.
The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology is essential reading for forensic pathologists and medical examiners, because it is published by the National Association of Medical Examiners. First published in 1980, it appears four times a year and features articles on new examination and documentation procedures. This journal is a useful discussion forum for the expansion of the role of the forensic pathologist in new areas including human rights protection, suicide and drug abuse prevention, and occupational and environmental health. It also includes case reports, technical notes, and reports of medico-legal practice worldwide.
Legal Medicine is a relatively new journal, first appearing in 1999 and comprising five issues a year. It is the official journal of the Japanese Society of Legal Medicine and it is intended for forensic scientists, forensic pathologists, anthropologists, serologists, odontologists, toxicologists, and lawyers specializing in the medico-legal area. Legal Medicine is an international forum for the publication of a wide range of original articles, reviews, and correspondence. Besides covering all the main areas of forensic science, it also accepts submissions on malpractice, insurance, child abuse, and medical ethics.
The Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences launched its official publication, the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, in 1968. It covers a wide range of topics: arson, aircraft accidents, money laundering, sex offenders, voiceprints, and even the philosophy of evil. There are also topics that are of special interest to Australian forensic scientists, such as the treatment of aboriginal people within the justice system.
Science and Justice is the official journal of the Forensic Science Society, founded in 1959 and one of the world's oldest and largest associations for forensic scientists. The journal has a comprehensive range of articles and appears four times a year.
The American College of Forensic Psychiatry publishes the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, which first appeared in 1979. It publishes papers written by psychiatrists who act as expert witnesses and by attorneys who deal with civil and criminal mental health cases. The Journal appears quarterly and has published over 800 papers at the interface between psychiatry and the law. It covers historical and cultural aspects of mental health. Topics that have been written about include anti-social behavior, suicide, air rage, stalkers, malingering, and violent behavior.
Laboratory-based forensic scientists have their own specialist professional publications. For instance, The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors publishes an online newsletter. This is intended as a forum for the discussion of issues concerning the management of the crime laboratory as well as a channel for informing members about the business and activities of the Society.
There are several journals which deal in detail with specialized branches of forensic science. One example is Environmental Forensics, the journal of the International Society of Environmental Forensics. The publication deals with legal and technical aspects of environmental pollution, a subject that is of importance for those working to protect the air, water, soil, and biological ecosystems. In a completely different area, the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners publishes an academic journal for its members, and other interested parties, twice a year.
Busy forensic scientists often do not have the time to read all the journals they would like to. That is why abstracting journals, such as Forensic Science Abstracts, are so useful. They provide what is known as a current awareness service, scanning all the relevant journals. A short summary, known as an abstract, of the articles in each journal is produced and all the scientist needs to do is to browse through the abstracts on a regular basis and then track down the articles of major significance to his or her work. Forensic Science Abstracts is part of a larger publication called Excerpta Medica, which surveys over 4,000 biomedical journals.
Another important type of publication for the busy professional is the communications journal. This contains short papers or letters which are meant to give the reader a rapid update on developments in their field. One good example is Forensic Science Communications, which is published by Federal Bureau of Investigation scientists and appears four times a year.
A recent development is the appearance of the electronic journal with no paper equivalent. Anyone can set up an electronic journal; it may be free to access to all, or it may be restricted by password. Papers may or may not be peer-reviewed. One example is Scientific Testimony, which is produced by the faculty and students at the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. Its declared aim is to improve the quality of scientific testimony in the courts. The editors invite research papers, tutorials, where a specific scientific or technical topic is reviewed, and have set up a debating forum where people can advance their views. Areas that will be covered regularly include the work of the expert witness, forensic science in general, and science and the jury.
However, probably the first online forensic journal of this kind was Anil Aggrawal's Internet Journal of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, which was set up in 2000 and goes on-line twice a year. Anil Aggrawal is a professor of medicine in New Delhi, India, and chose a forum where those working in forensic medicine and toxicology could share their experiences. Often, a professional will make an observation or try something out which they may not have time to write up for an academic journal. It is easier, however, to email the idea to an Internet journal where the work is more likely to appear and interesting feedback from others can be generated. Professor Aggrawal's journal has now developed so it can accept full-length research papers with color photographs. No doubt, there will be other online developments of this kind. If professionals can communicate with one another easily in a journal format and have the chance for exposure to new ideas, it can only help develop their knowledge and accelerate the progression of their science.
SEE ALSO Careers in forensic science; Training.