Dr. Cyril Wecht: The Benefits of Forensic Credentialing


April 17, 2012
Dr. Cyril Wecht is a well-known forensic pathologist and served for many years as Pittsburgh’s elected coroner. He is currently a chief spokesman and executive advisory board chair for one of the nation’s largest forensic credentialing organizations, the American College of Forensic Examiners International, or ACFEI. While some critics liken the organization to a diploma mill, Wecht defends ACFEI: “The purpose of the organization is to encourage people who are interested in forensic science to learn more, to study more.” This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Sept. 27, 2011.

We’ve spent, in a sense, the last year doing a forensic examination of forensic science in America, and … we’ve discovered with the help of the National Academy of Sciences report, that things aren’t like [the television show] CSI, right?


All these years of doing this, how is it that the whole thing is so disorganized, that there are no standards?

Let me tell you something that does sound boastful, and I don’t mean it that way, although I’m very proud of this. For 40-some years I have been talking about some of the things that are pointed out in the NAS report.

Not to suggest for one moment that anybody there was mindful of what I had said or written many times, or that someone stole my ideas or thoughts. But it took a very long time, to February 2009, for the NAS report to be forthcoming. I have talked for more than four decades about the need for forensic scientists functioning in governmental positions to be objective and to be independent, to not allow themselves to be considered, viewed, and utilized as an extension of the prosecutorial team; that the forensic scientist functioning as a medical examiner, functioning as a criminalist, functioning as a toxicologist, whatever, that you are not part of the district attorney’s thing; that when you function as a coroner, medical examiner, or forensic pathologist in a coroner’s office, you are functioning in an independent capacity.

And the NAS report, which has made it clear, and maybe this has been lost sight of by a lot of people, strongly states that forensic scientific facilities and personnel should not be an integral part of the prosecution. That is very, very important.

The second thing I talked about a long time is that medical science is not an absolute science. Physics, mathematics, chemistry, and I think some people say astronomy — these are absolute sciences. I’ve got some colleagues still today who [will] testify with absolute certainty. I find that unethical, immoral, despicable.

You don’t talk about “absolutely certain,” or some of the other things that are a little different but somewhat related, to use adjectives, and kind of quantitative descriptions of a particular case: “This is the most egregious case I’ve ever seen. This is the most horrible stabbing I’ve ever seen.” Really? I mean, did you keep a record then? You grade these one through 49? Or “this is the 33rd most horrible shooting I’ve ever seen” or “this is the 29th worst rape I’ve ever seen.” That’s the kind of stuff that you see coming forth in testimony. That’s not your purpose there. You set forth the facts, and you deal with it objectively.

“There’s this great, great hunger, this incredible fascination with forensic science. I often quip that we are up there now with sex, motherhood, apple pie and baseball. Everybody [is interested in] forensic science, and everybody wants to be a forensic this or that.”

I’m not saying dispassionately, I’m not saying that you should be insensitive, that you should be oblivious to the importance, the relevance, the impact that your findings have on society — civil and criminal law, families, people, defendants, etc., attorneys. But [do] what you are supposed to do in an objective fashion.

And that is clear, and that ties in with the fact that, as the NAS report points out, there’s only one absolute science in our field of medicine and that’s cellular DNA — not even mitochondrial DNA. …

Let me get back to the National Academy. … They say we need national standards; we need credentialing of people, not just forensic pathologists and people who do autopsies, but the forensic scientists, the forensic experts, the people who come in and testify. Right now, not only is the science weak in many of these specialties, but there’s no way to determine who’s who, and [if they] should be allowed to testify.

Well, now you’re getting into an area which I know you want to discuss from an organizational standpoint. And I think, with all due respect to you, … you should check this out yourselves. I think that you are failing to fully understand and appreciate the way things work in the courtroom.

If you think that someone just comes in and is qualified in some kind of superficial, fleeting fashion, you’re mistaken. Today, with my 50 years of experience and the 17,000 autopsies that I’ve done and the 37,000 other autopsies that I’ve reviewed, supervised or signed off on, I may still be challenged.

“Well, Doctor, you say that you’ve” — a little silly to make a point — “you say you’ve done a couple thousand suicides and you’ve seen that many, and so on. But doctor, how many suicides have you seen that were reportedly committed by left-handed people who had arthritis in the wrist and an absent fourth finger?”

I mean, I just made that up, OK? The point that I’m making is that lawyers are challenging credentials and expertise and experience of experts all the time.

There have been cases, and [they are] probably still going on, some places in America where people are being permitted to testify who don’t have proper credentials. More of that is related to bias and incompetence and negligence than it is to the actual credentialing because, I’ll tell you, and I do a lot of testifying in civil cases and criminal cases, and, you know, I’m not defending our systems and saying they’re perfect. But I’m just telling you the idea that you’re not going to be challenged on the basis of your experience and your expertise — are you board certified, how many such cases have you done, where have you practiced, etc. — that’s not happening.

Well, it may happen in most jurisdictions, but Judge [Nancy Gertner] in Boston issued an order to try to encourage attorneys in criminal cases to have what are called “Daubert hearings,” hearings about the nature of the science.

Yeah. Now that’s different from the expertise of the person.

No, but even to have lawyers question the qualifications and the veracity of the evidence —

Well, but excuse me, sir. See, the Daubert case [Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals] … had nothing to do with the qualifications of the expert; it had to do with the science.


So, yeah, that’s a different story.

But the [Innocence] Project says that in 60 percent of their exonerations … expert testimony that was given in court was clearly false because DNA showed that these people were innocent.

Well, that’s right.

Because there was no real science behind what they were testifying to.

Well, that’s part of it. Look, I’m all in favor of the DNA project, and I’m good friends of [co-founders] Peter [Neufeld] and [Barry Scheck], and they are to be commended for the fantastic work that they’ve done. And I like to point out, for the 265 or 270 people or so who have been exonerated, I guarantee you there are many, many more who are languishing in prison, who have already died, or where materials are not available for testing. Or some of them don’t even know that you can have things tested. …

Let’s step back for a second, because a lot of people are familiar with the Casey Anthony case, which was filled with forensic testimony of all kinds that was allowed in.

Yeah. By experts.

By alleged experts.

Well, you say “alleged.” To my knowledge, everybody who testified — I mean, the pathologist, toxicologist, the anthropologist — I think they were all board-certified people, as I recall.

Well, not the gentleman [Dr. Arpad Vass] who testified about —

The smell?

— the smell. There is no board in “smellology.” … There was someone who was allowed to testify about seeing an apparition in some duct tape, right?

An apparition? Well, yeah, that — yeah.

She said it went away when she turned around and came back.

Yeah, well that is highly suspect. I agree with you on that. But with regard to the odor —

How does that get into a courtroom? … If it’s so rigorous, how does that get into the courtroom?

The gentleman who testified about the odor, he works on the body farm [at Oak Ridge National Laboratory]. I mean, he’s been there for years. He’s dealing with these decomposing, smelly bodies every day in his professional life. There is no board certification of olfactory forensic science, or whatever you might want to call it.

If he’s not qualified to express an opinion on what a body smells like that is decomposing, then who in the world is?

I don’t know. That’s your opinion, right?

Well, no, you get to the question of Daubert. See now we’re over in Daubert. Should that be admitted inasmuch as it hasn’t been presented before? But the challenge is expertise because there’s no specific board; that’s a quite different matter.

Let’s see if there’s something we can agree on.


That, in fact, there’s relative chaos, if you will, in the area of who sets up these boards; who sets up these organizations; who’s allowed in them; and who determines who’s board-certified and not certified? …

The whole panorama, it’s not quite chaotic. In medicine you’ve got the boards, right, as you know, three dozen or maybe now 40 primary specialties and similar number of subspecialties.

And then you have different national organizations that are the umbrella groups: The American Board of Medical Specialties, [American Osteopathic Association Board, American Association of Physician Specialists, Inc.], and so on. And you take the examinations, as I did in pathology, as my son did on neurosurgery, as my daughter did in obstetrics/gynecology. And you take it with people who are being trained from Washington to Florida, from California to Maine.

So quite correct to say that it’s chaotic. When you talk about our field of forensic science, you now have a separate exam in forensic pathology; you have a separate exam in forensic psychiatry; and you have now American Board of Criminalistics, American Board of Forensic Toxicology, American Board of Forensic Anthropology, American Board of Forensic Odontology. So you do have the exams.

What is necessary is for the courts to see to it that these people have the expertise, and for attorneys [to] do their job. And as I say, I’m not defending the legal community of America. I’m not their spokesperson. But I think there are darn few trial attorneys who don’t know enough to look into the real credentials of an expert — their own and the one on the other side. …

Did you ever look into the background of Robert O’Block [the president and founder of ACFEI]?

I know a little bit about Dr. O’Block’s background, but I don’t know in detail.

Well, because as I said at the beginning, what we were trying to find out is that there was a lot of criticism of the organization in general, even though it appears to be the largest membership organization of its kind.

That’s right. And so you’ve got to ask yourself — and I don’t know the exact numbers. I’ve heard different numbers.

I’ve heard as high as 18,000, 10,000, 12,000, but let’s say take the low number of 10,000. Are there 10,000 people who are fools, charlatans, nincompoops, call them whatever you will? You’ve got to ask yourself, what is this all about? The purpose of the organization is to encourage people who are interested in forensic science to learn more, to study more, to try to do what you can to enhance their knowledge and their interest in forensic science.

The ACFEI is not a training organization. It does not hold itself out to be. And I will tell you, as far as I know, [it] has nothing to do with training people to become a forensic pathologist like me or a forensic toxicologist like my colleagues or a criminalist … No, not involved in that at all.

The ACFEI is a quite different organization from the AAFS. The AAFS, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, of which I am a past president, if I may point that out, probably consists of active or maybe retired people or semiretired people who are or were full-time forensic scientists or full-time attorneys working, interested in this field, OK?

The ACFEI probably, and I don’t know, I bet you 90, 95 percent are not full-time forensic scientists. They are law-enforcement deputy sheriffs. They are schoolteachers. They are people who are interested in forensic science. This one maybe wants to teach a course in high school. This one maybe wants to do something in college. This one maybe wants to work with their local police or sheriff’s department. They’re interested.

There’s this great, great hunger, this incredible fascination with forensic science. I often quip that we are up there now with sex, motherhood, apple pie and baseball. I think we’re in the top 10 — forensic science. I mean, look at all the CSI programs and everything. Everybody [is interested in] forensic science, and everybody wants to be a forensic this or that.

The epitomization and the ultimate absurdity that I recall was seeing a program when the hurricanes were striking down South, and they had a guy on there, and the caption underneath was “Forensic Hurricanologist.” So everybody wants to be forensic, all right.

So what the ACFEI does, [it] says, “Hey, here are some courses, here are some programs online,” like many other schools and programs that are online. Don’t say to them: “Well, gee, we’re sorry, Mr. Police Officer. We’re sorry, Mr. Deputy Sheriff. We’re sorry, Mrs. Schoolteacher. You quit your job and you [go] to college and you will get your degree. And then you get your master’s degree, and then you get your Ph.D. degree or your M.D. degree. And then you come around and you talk to me as a forensic scientist.” That would be intellectual arrogance of the highest possible order.

These are people who want to learn something about forensic science, and that’s what the ACFEI tries to do. The [American] Academy [of Forensic Sciences] does not reach out to those kinds of people. You probably can’t become a member or become a fellow unless you are a full-time, active practitioner.

My graduate student took the [Certified Forensic Consultant] test [at ACFEI] and applied a year ago, and she went to the [2010 national] convention [in Orlando]. She met you there, by the way. …

What is her field?

She’s a master’s in journalism.


She has no forensic background.

But she’s interested.

Well, we wanted to find out what it took to join the organization.


We assume you don’t really know about the administrative goings-on or what’s going on [at ACFEI headquarters] in Springfield, Mo.

No …

Do you have any idea what percentage of people pass your exam, the exam that you helped put together?

No, I don’t.

OK. Do you know how many people took your exam?

No, I don’t.

OK. Have you ever gone to Springfield and talked with the people who administered the program about how many people have actually taken the test and failed?

No, no, and I would like to know those numbers, and I’m going to find out next month.

Originally we went to Mr. O’Block and asked him for this information, and he said that we have to come and interview you, that you are the chief spokesman for the whole organization.

I’m not holding back on you. I just don’t know the numbers.

Oh no, but are you the chief spokesman?

He’s asked me to be a spokesperson in talking with you and your colleagues about this interview, this interrogation, this investigation, [which] as you know, he perceives as a witch hunt. You know that?

In fairness to you, I have a lot of questions. And the questions really have to do with the operation of the organization as a whole.


And only he really can answer them or someone who is part of the organization.

I do not ever like to be evasive or disingenuous and certainly not to tell lies. I just look you in the eye and tell you I don’t know, you know, what goes on administratively, who’s giving the test, how many people are taking it, who’s passing it. I’m not grading the test, and so on. I did compose the test, which is, I think, a pretty rigorous test, by the way. And I’d like to see a lot of my colleagues and friends in pathology take it, let alone a lot of other people. …

Here’s why we got curious. We spoke with someone who is knowledgeable about what goes on inside the organization.


And how many people pass not just this test, but all the tests that are administered. And this person says 99 percent of the people who apply, as long as their check doesn’t bounce, get a certificate.

Well, I think that that is inordinately high and should not be. I readily, readily state that without hesitation. There can be no meaningful exam that has a 99 percent pass rate. I do want to say this: Pass rates can be whatever an organization wants them to be, including governmental. And you just look at state bar exams, how they have changed from year to year, from decade to decade? …

All I’m saying is that pass rates can be whatever anybody wants them to be, including medical specialty boards, and so on. But I do not say this to deviate from what I said a moment ago. Ninety-nine percent pass rate is too high, and is not then a pass rate which should be in place because it then can’t be a meaningful test. …

Do you know John Bridges?

Yes. I met John for the first time at the [ACFEI] meeting last year, and I was sorry to see him go.

He was the president and CEO of the organization, right?

Yes, that’s right.

And he has a background in standards. … He was the [executive director of National Preparedness and Homeland Security], post-9/11, [for] the postal service. He’s been around, OK?

Yes. He’s a good solid [guy]. …

He said that he saw all these glossy materials with names like yours, highly respected, internationally known people, so it made him think, “This must be a great organization so I’m going to be part of it.” He had a three-year contract, and he went out to Springfield, Mo., and he left after, I believe, eight or nine months.

Let me quote him. [I asked,] “What do you think of Cyril Wecht?” “Outstanding individual. I looked at his reputation before I came out here” — meaning Springfield — “and he’s been in the forensic world for many, many years. So his reputation stands for itself.” So I asked him, “The fact that his signature was there, was that important to you?” And he said, “Yes.”

So we asked him, “Why did you leave?” He said, “Because there are not standards.” I’ll summarize what he said: It’s not a college. There are no academic standards. It’s not a real educational institution. The primary purpose of the organization is to make money. The most important thing is the revenue stream. It’s a great marketing organization.

And he said that the tests that often were [written] by people in the office at the instruction of Mr. O’Block, … these were not qualified people doing it, and that, in general, he was unable to change what was going on. Also, he was not given access to the finances of the organization in terms of what Mr. O’Block makes. Does he have a personal trust that controls the company?

And his other concern was that they’re now doing business with the Defense Department, the organization is, and most of its money is coming from a program involving Homeland Security, which is one of the reasons he got involved.

Why is he concerned about that? I thought that would be something good, that the ACFEI has hooked up with the Defense Department, Homeland Security. And I know they have a good relationship with the FBI and the Behavioral Science Unit, and so on.

I would think that those are good points.

We’ve made some inquiries to the FBI about what exactly the relationship is. But we know the relationship with the Pentagon, and we know that most of their revenue right now is coming from — do you know how much revenue they make?

Who, who?


I know nothing about the —

The estimates we have are between $2 million and $4 million a year.


From the Pentagon.

They’re from the Pentagon for programs?

For Homeland Security programs. … And he’s concerned with the financial management of those funds and how they’re being handled. … And that’s another reason why he left.

Yeah. See, that I don’t understand — the financial management. I had nothing to do with the finances and I don’t get a salary or anything like that or a commission. But I would think, not that I’m enchanted with every facet of the United States government and so on, but I would think that the Pentagon and Defense Department giving out a contract, that they would look into things and see if the job is done.

As to where the money goes, I wouldn’t think that’s as important as to what you’re getting for the money. Isn’t that what counts? I mean, whether it’s a private institution or an academic institution; whether it’s a not-for-profit institution or whatever. What’s important is [if] the government [is] getting what it contracted for, not the fact that someone’s a private owner. I think, tell me if I’m wrong, I think that there are private outfits that make money. …

Well I’m not saying that it was done improperly. I’m saying he was concerned with the way the funds were being handled.

Well, as a CEO, I guess he had a right to be concerned, yeah.

And he didn’t feel he had the authority.

Well, if you’re the CEO, I guess you’ve got to know everything about funds. I had nothing to do with that. I have yet to be in Springfield, and I never asked, and I don’t have any desire to see the books.

I have a strong interest in knowing about examinations and pass rates, and so on, things that you have discussed with me. And that I am definitely going to inquire about. I tell you that unhesitatingly.

OK, well, we inquired about it and we didn’t get a response, so we’re trying to get a response. In terms of us being after them, he knows, Mr. O’Block knows, and I think everybody knows, that the organization had a past where they were criticized.


And so we were just looking into what’s going on now — you know, has it changed?

That’s right. That’s right. And I think —

So let me step back for a second.

— that many changes have been implemented.

The materials from the organization characterize the certificates that are given out as more than just a certificate of someone who’s interested. These are the certifications, right? It says certification. … “Certified.” She’s certified as a forensic consultant.

With the credentials — “Certified Forensic Consultant,” yeah.

When this was sent to her, amongst the materials it says: “The Certified Forensic Consultant designation contributes to the weight of testimony a forensic professional presents, and it helps verify the validity of the evidence presented, the application of specialized knowledge of the facts in a case, and the relevance of the evidence to the issues in the case.”


OK? But she has no expertise —

Nothing wrong with that language. The key word —

— nor did the tests ask her to identify any expertise in any forensic science or specialty.

The key word is “contributes to.” That is the controlling word, “contributes to.” And any good lawyer, a kid right out of law school, would say: “Ma’am, just exactly what is your training? I see the certificate you’ve shown me, very pretty, very handsome, you’ve had it framed, and so on. But tell me, what is your training, what is your training?”

And the point I’m making, you see, is that that piece of paper doesn’t mean very much. I’m sure it’s designed to make somebody feel good, to make them feel they’ve accomplished something, and I would hope that they have. I would hope that they have learned and studied and taken a test, and so on. Does it really qualify them to be the expert in a particular field? No.

In fact, “forensic consultant” in and of itself has no pragmatic application. When you say a “forensic consultant” — in what? Pathology, psychiatry, criminalistics, anthropology, entomology, odontology, engineering?  …

Is it just resume padding that’s going on here?

I think it’s semantical embellishment; I would agree with you on that. And I would not —

Semantical embellishment? [Laughs.]

What, you like that? You like that?

Yeah, that’s a good one.

Yeah. [Laughs.] I like that too. I just thought of it. …

I would not argue with you if you said, “Maybe words should be changed,” and instead of “certified” you think of something else. Instead of saying you’re, I don’t know, qualified for this or that, I think that some semantical changes probably should be instituted along with more rigorous examinations. Yes, I agree.

OK. Here’s one of the things that got our attention when we were looking at this. There’s a gentleman who’s apparently a pastor. He’s a theologian. And his initials listed in this book, which is the main book of the organization, says he has a BCIM, an FAAIM, an FAPA, an FABCHS, an FABI, a DAVCIP, a CFC, a CHS, a CMI, a CRS, a PI, an SCS, an SSI, right? … And CRS, by the way, I always wondered, what is that? And it’s a “Certified Relationship Specialist,” OK?

Certified what?

Relationship Specialist.

I don’t know what that means.

So they give all these different certificates, this organization.

Did he get all of those —

Those [are] from this organization.

He did?

Oh yeah. He got all of those different certificates, right, and his name is Roger Rickman. He’s a pastor … in California.

You mean, a religious —

Yeah. And he just pleaded guilty to child molestation. And he’s a fellow in the organization like you are. Which means he has to have been recognized by the director, Mr. O’Block as being someone of great standing.

Yeah, but you see —

How many fellows are there?

Just in the past month or two, there’s a long-standing, board-certified, pediatrician — I think it’s in New Jersey or Delaware — that was just convicted of sexual molestation of hundreds, dozens of children over a period of years.

The fact that there are people that commit murder who are doctors or lawyers or rabbis or priest and ministers, you know, that’s not fair to say you find somebody like that and you cast doubt and raise questions … because of individuals [like that].

That’s terrible. So somebody like that should be kicked out of the organization. But there are doctors every year.

But he wasn’t —

Then that’s another name. I thank you for bringing it to my attention. And I give you my guarantee that that name is going to be brought up, and I want you to please give me the name when we’re through here.

So he’s a pastor. Are you going to say that papacy … is a farce because of all the long-standing priests who have molested little choirboys over the years?

No, no, I think that’s a valid point, sir. I think that’s a very valid point to make. …

What I’m trying to get at is that we have done an investigation. We’ve tried to look inside the organization. What are its standards? Is there anybody watching what’s going on, not just the membership, but also the standards for the testing and whether people are actually taking the test, for instance? Is there more to it than —

Well, if somebody is getting away with something they’re supposed to be tested for, that’s terrible. That’s illegal. I mean, if you’re telling me that somebody got a paper that said they passed a test and didn’t take the test, that’s terrible. …

So what I would really ask you to do, hopefully with us, is help us get Mr. O’Block to sit down and answer some basic questions about the organization that you couldn’t possibly know about.

No, I don’t know about — I have encouraged him to talk. Whether he will or not, again, I have no control over him. …

I would really suggest, with all due respect, that you really go and maybe investigate what your name is connected to, because, in part, this seems to be an organization that is being run by one person. And you rarely get a former CEO, for instance, to come forward and [liken the company to a certification mill]. He says there are a lot of good people involved in it, but it’s really not what it says it is. And he says that the credentials are really not worth very much except for someone’s ego or to put up on a wall

I would not completely disagree with the last part of your statement. In fact, I’ve already said something like that — that certificate is an encouraging thing for somebody, makes them feel good, and so on. But I repeat for emphasis, in and of itself, [the certificate] does not qualify that individual as an expert. So I disagree that giving a certificate —

Nobody qualifies as an expert, at least for testimony, unless a judge lets them in.

Pardon me?

A judge has to let someone in the court.

That’s right, under the Federal Rules of Evidence and [rules] 702, 703, 704, and the Daubert ruling, and so on, you’re darn right. … So the idea that a certificate is going to bring in some charlatan, some fool, and that person’s going to wave that certificate, that is not happening in America, and no judge is going to tell you that.

So it’s not quite correct for you to continue to say that the issuance of these certificates is in some way contributing to the impropriety, the superficiality, the invalidity of forensic scientific testimony. That’s not what’s happening.

First of all, I didn’t say that. … All I did was quote from the letter that they sent to the recipient of the certificate — that this will help you to be more —

It will contribute.


It will contribute; that’s right. It will contribute, OK?

And you’ve written the same thing yourself [in ACFEI ‘s book United For Truth] I’ll find the quote in the book where you say that this organization will help contribute to your veracity and your reliability in your testimony by having one of these certifications.

It will contribute, that’s right. It’s just one small building block in the overall development of the individual, absolutely. …

Let me read to you what you wrote, here on Page 72 that’s in the book. “To be formally accepted by” — nationally recognized, meaning this organization, [a] prestigious entity comprised of one’s professional peers is a significant achievement — “[a] professional society membership can help one attain academic promotion, enhance one’s reputation and contribute to the acceptance of an expert in a given field by civil and criminal courts through the U.S.” Right?

I stand by that statement.

You stand by that, that these certificates will do that?

Absolutely, sure. If it’s a certificate that has been earned by attendance in a course and by successful completion of [an] examination. That is the predicate for that statement.

And you’re assuming that’s what’s going on?

Yeah, that’s right. If the person is not getting that kind of exposure, is not fulfilling the requirements set forth — X number of hours, is not taking and passing a meaningful exam that is being graded in a not overly harsh, but in a critical fashion, and so on, then that’s not right. So that statement is made on the basis and on the assumption that someone is doing the things that he or she is supposed to do.

And if someone tells us — who was in a high management position — that this is a certification mill; that it’s basically resume padding that [creates] the value of the certificate; that it’s not academic, it’s not a college, shouldn’t have the name college in it; and it’s not scientific, that there’s no science going on there —

I wouldn’t quite agree with that. First of all, I think I’m right. I think you can check this out — what do kids do? They Google, and so on? I bet you, you’ll find the word “college” used for a lot of things … in different organizations.

Now that’s just a play on words, doesn’t mean much. Nobody’s assuming that it’s a college for real. Nobody believes for one moment that it is a real college. … I think it all boils down to the sincerity of the individual, the desire to really achieve something.

You see, if your remarks and those of John Bridges were to be taken in the ultimate negativistic fashion, which you, I think, are frankly portraying and which you have adopted, then you are not being fair, sir, to thousands of individuals who really are desirous of learning something and enhancing their knowledge of forensic science and of contributing to their future careers.

I think you’re being very harsh and unfair, and not acceptably so, because if you believe that there are — whatever the number is, let’s say 10,000 I think is a conservative number from what I’ve heard.

We’ve heard numbers [from] 10 to 20,000.

OK, me too.

And we’ve asked for [them to] show us 10 to 20,000 names.

OK, but let’s take the low number. Let’s take the number 10,000. Do you think that there are 10,000 people out there who are engaged in a fraudulent activity, that are just buying a piece of paper, or do you think —

You’re changing and mischaracterizing what I’m saying.

No, I don’t think I am.

Well, we can agree to disagree.  … What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to find out real information about the organization.

Yeah, well, I can only tell you so much.

If they won’t tell us the answers, then we have to try and piece the story together.

If I can be a door opener —

That would be great.

— a kind of a conduit, I’m delighted to do so, and I’ve encouraged him all along. …

Let me just make sure I understand. You really didn’t do your own forensic examination of Dr. O’Block and his organization — right, when you started. … An idea would mean, for instance, to find out his past employment, whether that’s true, his resume, what those allegations were in the past in The Wall Street Journal in 1999 and the American Bar Association in 2000 about the nature of the operation. Did you go back and look at what that was based on?

No, no, I did not. For me, that’s not relevant. What is relevant is what is going on now and whether the organization is doing something in the field of forensic science.

It’s not for me to evaluate somebody morally or ethically, except as it relates to the professional conduct of that individual in the fields that are being dealt with, that we are reviewing and scrutinizing, and so on. Yes, that’s a different matter. But to say that because somebody did something like this in the past, or whatever, or aberrant behavior, or even imprisonment, or so on, here now you’re getting into someone’s own philosophy, and so on. …

… Do you agree there should be some kind of national certification for forensic experts?

Yes. And of course, then you’ve got to subdivide it. You know, all these different areas of expertise, two of which require an M.D. degree in pathology and psychiatry. Others, you have to get your master’s to be anything worthwhile and probably go onto Ph.D. — toxicology, anthropology, entomology, linguistics, engineering, etc.

Basically taking the place of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences?

Well, all should be above the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. See, why should the American Academy of Forensic Sciences — and again, I repeat, I’m an active fellow and former president and contributed a great deal of time and effort and money contributions, and to — and so on. But why should the AAFS set itself up as the —

No, but I’m saying in the sense they would be put out of business. There would be something on a federal level —

No, no, no, they wouldn’t. No, no, oh no, they won’t be. Oh no, no, no, they wouldn’t be put out of business. They would still be the organization that would attract forensic scientists to come and meet and talk and present papers and engage in colloquies, and so on. …

They wouldn’t be put out of business. But they wouldn’t be the ones that are certifying. But I don’t think they’re the ones who are certifying now. The certifications are going on by existing boards — American Board of Pathology, Psychiatry, and Toxicology, etc. So we do have these boards. I think what you’re talking about at the national level is something that will establish some degree of uniformity on a universal basis, and thereby increase the credibility, enhance the validity of such organizations.

And furthermore, there should be a national organization functioning — I hate to use the word[s] “doing police work” — “monitoring” is a better word. They should be monitoring because the AAFS and the ACFEI and others do not do that. They do not do that.

The organization that you are part of, that you’re the spokesman for, doesn’t monitor the quality of its members?

No, not in the sense that they are — if something’s brought to the attention, then it should be reviewed. And if there’s something that is subject to … consideration for disciplinary action and maybe even expulsion, absolutely, yes. …

Okay, let me ask you now — do you know what happens if someone fails the test?

You mean, like, do they have to go back and spend a certain number of hours again and — no, I don’t know. In most instances, I just know, professionally, people get a chance to take it a second time and sometimes a third time. And usually, like bar review, if you flunk it three times, you’ve got to go back at —

But in this case, they do it online so they can find the answer somewhere, right?

Yeah, I guess so.

And they can do it at least three times.

Yeah, is that right? Three times, OK.

So it’s not like your bar test where you go and take it and you can’t refer to anything while you’re there.

No. …

If you determine from your own evaluation of what’s going on, if you start hearing what we have heard, if this organization is more about making money than education, what would that mean to you?

I would not be happy with that. And if I found that to be true, then I would not want to be associated with an organization that is only about making money. There’s nothing wrong with making money in America, and there’s nothing wrong with making money academically. Harvard, Yale do pretty well. They may call it foundations and trust, and so on, but they’re making money.

A health care system is making money. We have one entity here in Pittsburgh that knows how to make hundreds of millions of dollars every year while dispensing health care. So why can’t you make money in this field too?

But the important thing is, you’ve got to be making the money legitimately. You’ve got to be making the money in ways that are resulting in good things in the field of forensic science.

We were talking about our area of endeavor. Yes, that has to be. It can’t be about money primarily. Making money has to be a secondary thing, to make money to keep the organization going, to pay salaries, to give raises, for benefits, to invite good speakers … and so on, yes. But not just to line anybody’s pockets. …

Well, again, what I’d really like to be able to do, and I’ve got a couple more questions along this vein, but I’d like to meet with you in Branson and meet with Robert O’Block and have him answer some of these questions.

Well, I’m going to be there and he’s going to be there, and I know we have a scheduled meeting on Friday morning as I recall.

We would like to do is to sit him down and interview him about what goes on.

Well that, look, it’s not for me to, you know, I — believe me, I’m not protecting him. I’m not his protector or his bodyguard. You know, set up with him.

We’ve tried. We visited with him.

No, I’ve encouraged him to meet. I have suggested, I’ve said, “Robert, no good purpose is served by, in any way, you know, avoiding these people.”

His concerns — and I think that there is some justification and validity to his concerns — are that you people started off with the idea that you were going to go after the ACFEI and you were going to show that it is a meaningless organization, that you have received critical remarks from people who have yet to be identified. …

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

POISONED: Part 3: The Fallout
Gopher Resource promised changes at Tampa’s old lead factory. It kept polluting. Records show the company pumped lead into the air and mishandled hazardous waste.
December 2, 2021
Can Federal Legislation Rein in South Dakota Trusts?
The ENABLERS Act, introduced amid the Pandora Papers revelations, aims to check the U.S. financial-services industry. Does it go far enough?
November 29, 2021
A Rare Look Inside Police Training in Utah
How might police training impact whom, when and why officers shoot? Watch an excerpt from the new FRONTLINE/Salt Lake Tribune documentary “Shots Fired.”
November 23, 2021
THE PEGASUS PROJECT Live Blog: Major Stories from Partners
A curated and regularly updated list of news articles from our partners in “The Pegasus Project,” a collaborative investigation among 17 journalism outlets around the world.
November 23, 2021