Skip to main content

Truth Machine

The Contentious History of DNA Fingerprinting

Truth Machine

The Contentious History of DNA Fingerprinting

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.

416 pages | 33 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Microbiology

History: History of Technology

History of Science

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society


Sociology: Criminology, Delinquency, Social Control


"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

"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

Table of Contents


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 1.     Finality?



Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

American Sociological Association: Melvin Pollner Prize in Ethnomethodology

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press