New at Huffington Post: I Make the Case for Privatizing Crime Labs

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Very interested to see the reader reaction to this one.

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64 Responses to “New at Huffington Post: I Make the Case for Privatizing Crime Labs”

  1. #1 |  Cyto | 

    Win The Future!

    I responded to a HuffPoBot’s snark about rich criminals buying off labs and actually got cogitation:

    383 Fans
    18 hours ago (7:23 PM)
    makes sense, thanks for explaining­.

    Thanks HuffPo Super User mabinog! One of my favorite things in the entire world is to have my preconcieved notions proven wrong. You just proved me wrong about the HuffPoletariate.

    {Arlo Guthrie voice} And if one HuffPo superuser, just one HuffPo superuser was to listen to a libertarian argument….. Well, they’d think he was crazy and de-fan him. But TWO! If two HuffPo superusers were to listen to a libertarian argument…. well, they’d think they were gay and they’d make them go sit on the group W bench. But THREE.. That’s a movement!

  2. #2 |  Curt | 

    I love the comment from jeffrey678 at 11:35 am. It’s the perfect example of a mindset so completely different from the average agitatortot.

    Private labs make corruption worse… contractors are easier to intimidate. His solution, separate labs for quality control… one belonging to the state gov’t and one belonging to the federal gov’t.

    Government is inherently “good”. Private is inherently “bad”. On the extremely rare occasion that the government does something bad… the answer is to provide more government oversight.

  3. #3 |  plutosdad | 

    I just got done reading The Poisoner’s Handbook, and was amazed at the dedication to science and truth exhibited by Norris and Gettler, even to the point of testifying for the defense in cases.

    One of the important points was that before Norris, American coroners were political appointments who put truth far below their own pensions and political power.

    What happened to end the reforms and example those two set, where modern investigators don’t even try to blind their experiments to make them unbiased, and in the worst cases are little better than paid informants police use. Is it lack of money for doing proper experiments? is this because they have to work closely with prosecutors and police so they end up gravitating that way? Is it because their bosses are all politically appointed, and want to keep their jobs and power?

  4. #4 |  Mattocracy | 

    You’re never going to completely remove corruption from a government action. Even outsourcing still has someone in the government overseaing/giving out contracts/ etc.

    But it’s easier to fire a private entity for negligence than a government employee or agency. The government has a built in bias to do what is in its interest and find evidnce to prove it. A third party doesn’t carry that bias as readily.

    You might say that having a contract with the government might induce a private laboratory to skew results, but multiple labs, maybe private and government run, would start producing vastly different results if someone was screwing around.

    You can’t do that when your sample is one. You need a larger sample size of independent people doing the same work.

  5. #5 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    A network of government labs, using identical testing methods, is much, much easier to monitor – and the same level of monitoring is required, of course – than a network of private labs, which have different standards and testing methods.

    “Even” outsourcing? No, especially outsourcing, because not only do you have to pay profit margins, plus people to watch the people auditing the labs, and you have to develop procedures based on a wide variety of labs…it’s extortionately expensive.

    Outsourcing is appropriate only when you can make major cost reductions (which is NOT going to be true for lab work, if it’s to be reliable), or when it’s not worth developing the capacity in-house (there’s a constant demand for forensic lab work).

  6. #6 |  yonemoto | 

    It’s distressing, too that at HuPo they automatically equate Privatization => for-profit => evil-profit-stakers.

    There’s no real reason why a crime testing lab would have to be a for-profit entity.

  7. #7 |  Mattocracy | 

    The Independent labs don’t have to have different standards. They just need to be able to double check each others work. You’re still making a lot of assumptions where they aren’t necessary.

  8. #8 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    You’re making the assumptions that private labs, which don’t necessarily have the same hiring standards, equipment, procedures and so on WILL work in a uniform manner.

    This isn’t born out by current labs, for that matter. And by the time you’ve foisted a detailed manual on them, you’re simply paying a premium for something you could of done in-house with several layers less bureaucracy.

  9. #9 |  Cyto | 

    #55 | Leon Wolfeson |

    Yeah! Why would we outsource important testing!?!? Would you trust your medical lab tests to a private outsourced lab? Of course not! Those tests have life-and-death consequences for you. You’d never send your blood tests, or infectious disease culture, or MRI evaluation to a private company. What if their profit motive caused them to cut corners? How could you ever trust the results?

    In light of this, why on earth would anyone propose sending forensic evidence to private labs for testing??

  10. #10 |  plutosdad | 

    “You’re making the assumptions that private labs, which don’t necessarily have the same hiring standards, equipment, procedures and so on WILL work in a uniform manner.”
    No, actually rather the opposite will likely be the case. The exact procedures re: the science don’t matter as much as the results. If the results cannot be replicated by other labs, then the one that keeps getting things wrong will get booted. You don’t want politicians setting scientific procedures. They need to set procedures on how to handle evidence regarding privacy. It is in a lab’s own best interests to handle things to make sure to not contaminate samples, etc. That the labs can do themselves, most already do.

  11. #11 |  SJE | 

    Both liberatarians and liberals sometimes get stuck in absolutes of whether government or private industry is better.

    There is abundant evidence that the private sector CAN do all sorts of things better and cheaper than the government, and pay its people better. Things like better training, management, and use of technology, etc. Not all the time, mind you.

    When you have clear evidence of failure of government, it is time to consider alternatives. Cato showed that the DC Public Schools spent as much as tuition to elite private schools yet got terrible outcomes. Enter renewed push for charters and reform of the DCPS. Here, you have decades of corruption and inefficiency at crime labs, and people imprisoned on the basis of such labs. Time for a change.

  12. #12 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    Sure, and I am arguing for a change, SJE: moving /away/ from locally run labs to a national network.

    The private sector can do better in some situations, a far from exhaustive list of factors being where full transparency and reproducibility is not required (not applicable), where need is variable (it generally isn’t), where only a few firms can handle the specialist needs of the field (not applicable), where there is strong price competition (not applicable), etc.

    You WILL end up simply paying a premium for a service which requires more cross-checking, and more overhead on the oversight.

    Plutosdad – I think you missed where I proposed the tests and standards were set by the top people in the profession, nationally. If there’s a standard procedure, it can be defended against tampering by local factors and politicians far more easily than isolated testing labs.

  13. #13 |  plutosdad | 

    @62 Leon Wolfeson: “I think you missed where I proposed the tests and standards were set by the top people in the profession, nationally”

    And how well has that worked in other cases? Anyone in a top position at the FDA that says marijuana is not that bad as alcohol and other drugs gets fired. The morning after pill was not approved for years, not because it is dangerous, but because of politics. You CANNOT remove politics from the equation.

    Also, a national standard is not necessary, it also interferes with the introduction of new techniques. If Gettler had to apply to change standards for every new test, criminal forensics would never have been overhauled and improved in this country. Labs already have standards, and with multiple labs, those with the best standards will produce the best results.

  14. #14 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    plutosdad – That’s why I’m saying the body should be independent.

    And blow that – changes to procedures *done in state labs* which are used to test crime scene materials SHOULD have to go through standards. The defence can still do their own testing, with new techniques, privately.

    “those with the best standards will produce the best results”

    What rot. There are results which are correct for the test, and there are results which are wrong. Consistency is more important than a hypothetical “bestness”. You can be sure that “best” is ruled by the political filter you were complaining about as well…