Truth Machine The Contentious History of DNA Fingerprinting
by Michael Lynch, Simon A. Cole, Ruth McNally and Kathleen Jordan
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Cloth: 978-0-226-49806-5 | Paper: 978-0-226-49807-2 | Electronic: 978-0-226-49808-9


DNA profiling—commonly known as DNA fingerprinting—is often heralded as unassailable criminal evidence, a veritable “truth machine” that can overturn convictions based on eyewitness testimony, confessions, and other forms of forensic evidence. But DNA evidence is far from infallible. Truth Machine traces the controversial history of DNA fingerprinting by looking at court cases in the United States and United Kingdom beginning in the mid-1980s, when the practice was invented, and continuing until the present. Ultimately, Truth Machine presents compelling evidence of the obstacles and opportunities at the intersection of science, technology, sociology, and law.


Michael Lynch is professor in the Science & Technology Studies Department at Cornell University and current president of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Simon Cole is the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification. Ruth McNally is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics at Lancaster University. Kathleen Jordan has a Ph.D. in sociology from Boston University and is currently a student at the Rhode Island School of Design.


"This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of science."
— Charalambos P. Kyriacou, Time Higher Education Supplement

"At the heart of Truth Machine lies the fundamental debate about the evaluation of probabilistic risk. The book examines the use of DNA tests in legal proceedings and the development of DNA-profiling methods in the United Kingdom and the United States....Truth Machine is an interesting read — it illustrates that the controversy of DNA profiling is rooted not in the science, but mainly in the restrictions of the adversarial system."
— Peter Gill, Nature

2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

"It presents vital information for those in the legal professions who need to understand opposing attorneys' arguments in both criminal and civil cases involving DNA. . . . Laypersons interested in crime and DNA will find it interesting."
— Choice

"Every scholar interested in science and law will find much of value in Truth Machine. It is a sophisticated book that does not easily fit standard courses, although it could be used for advanced seminars that explore the intersection of law and science. . . . Teachers of criminal law who wish to gain a sophisticated understanding of DNA as evidence will find the book extremely valuable."
— Marvin Zalman, Law and Politics Book Review

"[The book] could potentially serve as a useful text for students studying the fields of Science and Technology Studies or for those interested in pursuing careers in forensic law."
— John J. Love, American Journal of Human Biology

"The book reminds us that the processes of making truth and power are usually not such that science drives policy, or law drives practices; but rather science, law, policies. and practices mutually constitute each other. . . . This book is an illustration of how much we can learn when this interaction is taken seriously."
— Barbara Prainsack, Critical Policy Studies




Chapter 1. A Revolution in Forensic Science?

Interlude A. DNA Profiling Techniques

Chapter 2. A Techno-Legal Controversy

Interlude B. Admissibility, Controversy, and Judicial Metascience

Chapter 3. Molecular Biology and the Dispersion of Technique

Chapter 4. Chains of Custody and Administrative Objectivity

Interlude C. The U.K. National DNA Database

Chapter 5. Deconstructing Probability in the Case R. v. Deen

Interlude D. Bayesians, Frequentists, and the DNA Database Search Controversy

Chapter 6. Science, Common Sense, and DNA Evidence

Chapter 7. Fixing Controversy, Performing Closure

Chapter 8. Postclosure

Interlude E. Fingerprinting and Probability

Chapter 9. Fingerprinting: An Inversion of Credibility

Chapter 10. Finality?