Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

DNA Fail

I grew interested in the subject of DNA evidence after a number of men convicted during the “John-Be-Gone” sting operation in Sydney were ordered to supply samples to the National DNA Data Bank.

I wrote about some of the issues surrounding the collection and retention of DNA evidence at that time, although I really only scratched the surface of the subject, focusing more on questions of privacy than on the reliability of the evidence itself.

But there are all kinds of questions surrounding DNA evidence and many of them are explored in this New York Times article about how two DNA analysis techniques invented in the DNA laboratory of the New York City chief medical examiner’s office have been discredited.

The techniques, as the NYT explains:

…were the “high-sensitivity testing” of trace DNA amounts, and the Forensic Statistical Tool, or FST, in which software calculates the likelihood that a suspect’s genetic material is present in a complicated mixture of several people’s DNA. By its own estimate, the lab has used high-sensitivity DNA testing to analyze evidence samples in 3,450 cases over the past 11 years, and the FST in 1,350 cases over the past six. Cases in which both methods were used may be counted in both totals.

A coalition of defense lawyers is calling for an inquiry into the use of the techniques and, as the Times warns, “any finding of flaws with the DNA analysis could prompt an avalanche of litigation.”


Great ideas

I read the August 25 Cape Breton Post article headlined, “Glace Bay and Louisbourg No Longer an Ocean Apart,” with great interest.

I must confess, I’d never actually thought of Glace Bay and Louisbourg as being “an ocean apart,” given that you can, you know, drive from one to the other in 43 minutes, but perhaps I’m being too literal. Perhaps it’s a metaphor.

The point of the article is best summed up in the caption under the accompanying picture:

Community groups and partners in the fisheries industry in Glace Bay and Louisbourg are forming a community coastal coalition to bring the two communities together to work on innovative ideas to enhance seafood and ocean initiatives on the island.

Mike Kelloway of #bayitfoward, who has apparently never gone camping, told the Post the idea is “two communities working together as an open tent.”

Dannie Hansen, vice president of sustainability for Louisbourg Seafoods Inc, said:

We’re not bringing in consultants but rather we’re trying to put people back in the box to think about what we’ve already got and how we can enhance it.

I see trouble already — open tent or back in the box? Those are two very different (and equally baffling) possible meeting places. But apparently, once they’ve agreed whether to open the tent or climb back into the box, it will simply be a matter of sharing “resources” and “ideas” and watching the innovation flow.

Ideas are “endless,” they say, although nobody wanted to ruin the surprise by stating one out loud, preferring to stick to generalities like, the new group will be “working with initiatives for startups in the fishery sector and new ocean ventures” and “initiating new oceans opportunities” while at the same time “enhancing what is already there” and “collaborating around the fishery and oceans economy together.” The only semi-articulated idea involved “seeing Glace Bay as a safety fishing hub for Atlantic Canada.”

I can only wish them all the best, whatever it is they’re doing and wherever it is they’re doing it.


Deep dives

The Deep is a new online publication dedicated to long-form journalism focused on Atlantic Canada.

It’s a collaboration between The Coast, Halifax’s alternative weekly, and freelance writer/editors Chelsea Murray and Matthew Halliday.

The founders crowd-sourced over $19,000 of a stated $15,000 goal to finance the publication which intends to publish “one big story every month—sweeping, ambitious, can’t-put-them-down Atlantic stories that will stand toe-to-toe with the best magazine writing and reporting found anywhere.”

It’s the kind of writing I dreamed of doing until I realized I can’t stay serious that long. (It’s the same problem that derailed my career as a 12-year-old writer of historical romances — everything would be dead romantic and then, suddenly, the heroine would be attacked by wild pigs.)

Fortunately, Chelsea Murray doesn’t have that problem. Her piece, “How Not to Die,” is a serious, detailed, thoroughly interesting look at the two Canadian Forces veterans behind Marijuana for Trauma. Added bonus: Cape Breton references (Scotchtown and Egypt Falls both rate a mention).

It’s a great read and it makes me very excited for this new journalistic venture.