Cyril Wecht’s Response to Frontline

Dr. Wecht: We at the ACFEI have long felt that part of our educational mission, our agenda, is to educate our members on having proper medical and forensic scientific practices conducted in an ethical fashion. So we believe this is a subject that needs to be addressed. Indeed, we have conducted sessions at our national meetings dealing with the National Academy of Science Report that came out February 18, 2009. We have been addressing this for three years and we’re surprised that it has taken Mr. Bergman this long to refer to this report. Regrettably, Mr. Bergman has confused some issues. What is important, unquestionably, are the injustices that have occurred as a result of deliberate, negligent, incompetent testimony by various forensic scientists throughout the United States over the years. The NAS report has been discussed at ACFEI national meetings subsequent to its release in February 2009. We have been aware of these and we have been forthright in our condemnation of such practices. In this regard, it is interesting to note that to a great extent, the individuals – medical examiners, criminalists, and other forensic scientists who have committed these regrettable, tragic errors are not all members of the ACFEI. Most of these people have been members of another national forensic scientific organization, which for reasons unbeknownst to us, Mr. Bergman has chosen to ignore. So, we share to a great extent, his criticism of certain individuals, as well as some of their practices in the field of forensic odontology, criminalistics, pathology, fingerprints, etc. These are not the absolute scientifically, unassailable endeavors that some of those individuals and the organizations to which they belong would have had us believe.

Our concern - it is readily apparent and quite distressing to our organization that Mr. Bergman has seen fit to proceed with erroneous information. There are no ACFEI tests that have a 99% pass rate. Pass rates have been considerably less. However, this is not the issue. We do not conduct tests to determine whether somebody is going to receive a formal, official academic degree. We are an educational organization. We give these tests, most are open book, because they are designed to educate. They are not designed to exclude people from learning about forensic science or from incorporating such knowledge into their particular pursuits. We are delighted to have high school, college, and university professors and teachers; law enforcement officers at local, state and national levels; medical practitioners who are interested in doing consultation work for attorneys; attorneys who need to learn about civil and criminal matters, as members. These are the people that we have reached out to. These are the people who eagerly became members of our organization, because there were no organizations that reached out to them or which permitted them to become members. Ninety-five percent of our members are not full-time, hardcore, forensic science practitioners. We make no bones about that. Our members are people who pursue a great variety of honorable professions in the general community, academic and so on, who want to learn more about forensic science. This is what we offer. This is what we are. This is what we are proud to have accomplished over the years. These are people who would not have been eligible for membership in the various national organizations that relate to individuals who practice more or less on a full-time basis in the various forensic scientific specialties. We have a quite different organization. Say what you want to about open book examinations. They are utilized throughout the United States and are designed for educational purposes. Medical practitioners who take re-certification examinations, such as cardiologists, gynecologists, urologists, etc. - these are done with open books. The purpose is to educate. The purpose is to keep people abreast of what is going on in forensic science, not to see how we can keep people out of educational programs. The need to expose flaws is fine, but who are these people? And what are the organizations to which they belong? How did Lowell Bergman come to single out the ACFEI because he personally disagrees with our pass rate, because he disagrees with our exam? What is this all about? What is the purpose of his unjustified criticism of this? What is the meaning? How does it relate to the serious matters that he purports to be talking about?

It is critical for people who have watched this program to know that Mr. Bergman and his colleagues were far less than honorable and forthright with us. We initially opened our doors to them. I personally spent numerous hours in two separate interviews with him and my responses were almost completely ignored. It is clear and obvious to us and to anyone who reviews the record that from the very outset Mr. Bergman was not interested in an objective, honest, unbiased approach so far as the ACFEI is concerned. He began with some misconceptions, with some deliberately, falsely implanted rumors and pursued those, excluding all candid responses and full disclosures. This is highly regrettable. This is not what PBS is known for in terms of educational, objective projects. It is indeed unfortunate that PBS has been misused in this fashion by Lowell Bergman, for reasons which only he can explain.

A response to his misconstrued quote about the alleged 99% pass rate

My response was related to a general question about an examination being given to people in formal academic programs geared toward a degree. That would not be a meaningful pass rate. However, “pass” rates do not relate to the kind of internal educational processes that the ACFEI is engaged in. My statement was taken completely out of context, having nothing to do with the internal, educational processes of the ACFEI. That statement was addressed to formal academic programs, in which people study for tests in order to move on and earn a degree. Perhaps the ACFEI should not be surprised and shocked by what Mr. Bergman has perpetrated here, when one recalls the treacherous hatchet job that he did on his long-standing colleague, the recently deceased and highly respected Mike Wallace. When one considers Bergman’s deplorable actions, it is not so surprising to see that he is continuing in the same surreptitious, despicable fashion. It is regrettable that he occupies an academic position and misuses the graduate students to pursue his own personal agenda.

—Dr. Cyril Wecht, MD, JD,CMI-V,CFP

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