Forensic linguistics is a perfect example of the three loopholes that the NAS Report doesn’t address.

(1) A lot of judges, prosecutors, defense and plaintiff attorneys approach linguistic issues (such as who authored the blog post? is this a real threat letter?) with a non-scientific layman’s approach. Most people aren’t usually aware of linguistics (is that some kind of linguini?) and surely not aware of how unreliable the layman’s approach is for finding out who authored a text or whether a document is a real threat ot not.

(2) Professors whose actual research is not at all related to such questioned are called in to testify because they have academic credentials, and often times no one checks if their research agendas or their research publications actually match up to what they are testifying about.

Recently I heard one academic state in a sworn deposition that his article on a Bantu word for wine was actually an article about authorship identification, or “at least the theory underlying it,” because he obviously had done no research at all on authorship identification. The central question regarding the linguistic evidence in the case was “who wrote the blogs?” –authorship identification –but the professor obviously had no trouble trying to delude the lawyers who had hired him. How sad that the lawyers did not understand what was going on until the deposition revealed that their expert had no credentials in what he was testifying about.

On the other hand, and just as dangerous, are academics who do publish research-related articles, yet totally eschew any researched methods when it comes to actual casework. The publications and the casework do not line up. While the publications suggest that the author is using a quantitative method which suggests objectivity and replicability, the actual case reports are totally subjective, with no quantification at all. Unless an attorney actually reads the publication(s) and reads the case report in light of the publication(s), he or she won’t see the mismatch between the credentials and the casework …..and realize that something really fishy is going on.

(3) One of the quickest ways to attain status in any field, especially when research takes too long and is too hard to do, is to create a certification program and a teaching component. This is the pattern for all the junk sciences identified by the NAS report –when there is no research, you can be sure to find a self-certifying program and a raft of seminars loosely attached to an academic or certifying organization.  Professors who are too busy testifying to do any real research on the reliability of their methods, or academics whose research looks good but whose reports are totally different from their research, are all too eager to rush into self-certification.

After a 40-hour class or a six-week course, you too can hang up your shingle as a forensic linguist! The NAS report does not address this problem, and might actually make the problem worse since it does emphasize the need for accreditation and certification.