President letter

GREETINGS FROM THE NAFEA PRESIDENT

Bob Kimsey
Dear NAFEA,

I am truly delighted to be President of North American Forensic Entomology Association and am looking forward to my tenure with great anticipation. NAFEA and the field of Forensic Entomology have made great progress since 2003 when I joined NAFEA and attended meetings for the first time, and I am very proud to be part of such a dynamic. Clearly the quality of the science presented at meetings, and that published by us in refereed journals has greatly matured in this interval. I believe that the quality of the students we attract and produce has had no small part in this progress. Thus, our science advances rapidly.

With good science progressing well, I think we should work on other areas of our professional life in the next two years, In particular we should (1) clarify our understanding of the meaning of the Daubert Standards to the courts, to our evidence, to ourselves, focusing in particular on our students, (2) we must learn how to be more effective in court, how to defend our opinions, evidence and science, and of course study how to personally survive courtroom combat, (3) discover how to avoid and resolve conflict between colleagues deriving from courtroom warfare and professional competition, and (4) above all foster the development and excellence of our students.

Daubert Standards

We must really understand the Daubert Standards and all their subtitle nuances, how these standards are progressing, and why we all should subscribe to them in our courtroom preparation regardless of the kind of jurisdiction, Fry or Daubert, in which we testify. At the least the Federal Courts and a majority of states now apply at least some version of the Daubert Standards, and if California is any measure, most if not all the rest will shortly convert as well. As a first step in what I hope will become an ongoing process, I have asked Ed Imwinkelried to give the Plenary Talk at our 2015 joint meetings with SWFS. Ed Imwinkelried, Edward L. Barrett, Jr. Professor of Law Emeritus, is one of the chief architects of the original Standards formulated in part in during the case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. Ed remains the greatest authority on Daubert, is unquestionably a first order scholar of extraordinary gift, and a delight to hear talk on Daubert. As Daubert is rapidly changing in scope and theory, I additionally propose that we add another talk to our annual updates detailing the changes to admissibility that have occurred in the past year.

Courtroom Combat

I worry that we may not be as effective as we could be in our effort to communicate our science to the court in a manner that facilitates the best possible decisions by the judge and the jury. We must learn how to deport ourselves to assure the survival of the analyses we bring and the opinions we present. All this is seriously compromised by the overwhelmingly threatening environment in which expert testimony occurs. I suggest short term and long term solutions to this particularly vexing problem. Robert Anderson’s Court Room Workshop for Wildlife and Entomology people in our joint SWFS-NAFEA 2015 meetings constitutes an excellent start and I exhort all of our membership to attend his workshop. Bob Anderson (SWFS member and Senior Counsel, Environmental Crimes Section Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice), one of the most articulate advocates I have met.

I propose that we establish continuing workshop opportunities designed for our younger members on courtroom deportment in the form of a Student Courtroom Colloquium. Briefly, students choosing to participate would be sent redacted case reports and evidence from real but resolved homicide cases, and asked to present a report of their findings and analysis of the entomological evidence. Included would be exact replacements of the insects collected in the original casework. They would acquire the necessary weather and other data for the form of analysis they chose, do the analysis, develop their opinions, write and submit the report to a panel of NAFEA members with experience in casework one month before meetings. They would then participate as an expert witness and defend their analysis and opinions in a Moot Court Event at those meetings. Two students would play opposing expert witness roles, thus pairs of participating students would be assigned (no choice) the same case, one for the defense and one for the prosecution (no choice). The Moot Court would have each of the various court personnel, jurors, bailiffs and etc, played by members not directly participating in the present year. Anyone would be allowed to attend. Students should dress, behave and generally deport themselves in the Moot Court as if they were actually going to court. They should be prepared to state and defend their opinions and report in the standard way that occurs in courtroom combat. Each student will defend their own report regardless of whether the reports are in agreement or not. The “jury” will deliberate in the standard way and decide who has the better argument. There will then be a general round table discussion about other perhaps better approaches. There would be brief discussions presented by older NAFEA members on deportment, the courtroom, responding to questions, the limits of your expertise, potential courtroom traps and etc. There would follow a Critical Incident Debriefing including all the student participants designed to eliminate the animosity that often develops between experts asked to testifying for opposing advocates. That evening we would have a social event for all that would celebrate the effort of each of the participants.

Professional Stress Resolution within NAFEA

This must comprise short and long term solutions to the problems of residual animosity between colleagues following battle in court, animosity arising from professional competition, research and ideological conflict, and the emotionally debilitating effects of traumatic experience during case work investigation. It may be that each of these requires a different approach, conflict resolution on the one hand, critical incident debriefing on the other. All such occurrences detract from the professional collegiality of our organization and directly and negatively impact the progress we can make in our science. Scientific progress proceeds more rapidly when we work together as a cohesive and collaborative whole. Also, friendship, collegiality and jocularity are simply a lot more fun than animosity and enemies. To begin the process of resolving conflicts with in NAFEA we should offer conflict resolution and critical incident debriefing sessions annually for any persons that need this kind of help. I am planning to incorporate a colloquium on both these services in the 2016 meetings.

Enhanced excellence in thesis research by NAFEA students

Herein I propose we hold an annual Thesis Research Colloquium open to any student that wishes to participate. Essentially, students would send formal thesis proposals to a panel of experienced Ph.D. level NAFEA members. If the student has no formal guidance on how to prepare a thesis proposal then we would provide them with that. The proposal would be due a month prior to the meetings, panel members would read and critique these- adding MS Word comments to the text. They would then send these to a moderator who would compile all the comments onto a master copy of the proposal. At the meetings the student would provide a 10-15 minute review and defense of their proposal for the panel using any form of presentation method- PowerPoint for example. Each member of the panel in turn would present their comments and suggestions in an open discussion, using a large screen display of the master copy of the proposal. Modifications to the proposal would be incorporated to the master copy in real time on the screen by the moderator to reflect the suggestions and ideas that emerge from the discussion. A copy of this version of the proposal will be given to the student. Thus we would foster a free exchange of ideas, critique and suggestions to assist the student with the planning of their thesis research. Although this sounds threatening, what I envision is the same sort of quasi-informal panel discussion that occurs at NSF, NIH or NIJ grant proposal review panels. But here, instead of an advocate, the student would defend their own proposal. The intent here is to obviate the general lack of local advisor expertise many students of Forensic Entomology have because there are so few Forensic Entomologists at major universities. This effort is not meant to replace or supplant but to amplify advice and guidance provided by the student’s thesis advisors. Indeed, this process also would prepare a student for the proposal review panel responsibilities we all sooner or later encounter in academia.

I encourage all of you to think about these ideas and how they may be modified and implemented. I have written some these out more completely, and if you have an interest please do not hesitate to ask for the more complete version (such as it may be), or to suggest enhancements. As the year progresses I will be attempting to establish committees for these so that we can work on them in a more efficient and democratic way.

I am developing other ideas as well, and anticipate periodically sending out a “Message from the President” regarding these and other developments. As a member of the 2015 Meeting planning committee I exhort you to all attend and take advantage of the workshops. They shall be spectacular!

Cheers,

Bob