DNA in the Criminal Justice System

Project ID: DNA in the Criminal Justice System
Funding: NSF Grant No. 0131923
Researchers: David Lazer (PI - Harvard U.), Ines Mergel, (Harvard U.), Birgit Rabl (U. Vienna)
Collaborator: Maria Christina Binz-Scharf (CUNY)
Status: In progress
Project Website: DNApolicy.net

DNA and the Criminal Justice System is a Harvard-based project to create a forum for the exchange of views and information among those interested in this area. Its aim is to assist these individuals and institutions in managing the challenges that the use of DNA in the criminal justice system pose.


This builds on collaboration between the NSF-funded DNApolicy.net. The objective of the research project is to understand (1) search and sourcing strategies for knowledge, and (2) the volunatry engagement in sharing knowledge (giving and receiving help).

The sharing of knowledge is one of the fundamental prerequisites to the effective operation of an organization. The public sector offers particular challenges to the sharing of knowledge, because of limitations in the merging and relocation of government agencies (e.g., New York cannot annex New Jersey no matter how efficient it would be). In the US, in particular, expertise is scattered through the government—because of the federal nature of US government, and because of a Congressional-driven history of scattering functions throughout the federal government.

Various information and communication technologies (ICT) clearly enable access to information and knowledge. It seems particularly plausible that ICT could revolutionize knowledge sharing about innovations among diverse and geographically dispersed government agencies, through reducing costs of communication and making transparent who knows what, and “who knows who knows what” (Monge & Contractor, 2003) . In the extreme, the possibility would appear that ICT could make geography irrelevant.

Of course, the technology simply creates the outer bounds of what is possible — simply because it is possible for me to have spoken to someone from a distant location today does not mean that I have. There are numerous societal, institutional, individual, and situational factors that limit the use of these technologies. Therefore, there is a need to understand how the particular features of technologies interplay with how people tap into different sources of knowledge, why they ask and answer questions the way they do, and where and how technology is helpful in improving knowledge sharing. In particular, in this proposal, we focus on two fundamental questions: (1) What search strategies do individuals adopt when looking for information, and what determines the sequence of their search? That is, where and how do people look for answers? (2) What are the predictors of voluntary engagement in knowledge sharing activities in online communities?

List of US forensic labs


Mergel, I./Lazer, D./Binz-Scharf, M.-C. (2005): Electronic Communication in a Geographically Dispersed Community of Forensic Scientists, poster presentation, dg.O 2005, The National Conference on Digital Government Research, May 15.-18. 2005, Atlanta.

Mergel, I./Binz-Scharf, M./Lazer, D. (2005): Going The Extra Mile: Engaging In Voluntary Knowledge Sharing In Communities Of Practice, conference paper presented at INSNA International Social Network Analysis Annual Conference, Redondo Beach, February 16-20, 2005.

Binz-Scharf, M.-C./Mergel, I./Lazer, D. (2005): Searching for answers: Tracing the paths of knowledge in a dispersed community, conference paper, INSNA International Social Network Analysis Annual Conference, Redondo Beach, February 16-20, 2005.