ASU statistician tapped to help strengthen forensic science

Connie Borror

Connie Borror, a professor of statistics in Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, has been selected by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to serve on a group whose goal is to strengthen the field of forensic science through the identification and development of standards and guidelines.

New College is the core college on ASU’s West campus.

Borror teaches statistics courses for New College’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, which offers bachelor's degrees in both statistics and forensics. She was appointed to the NIST-administered Organization of Scientific Area Committees and will serve on the Subcommittee on Toxicology.

This subcommittee will focus on standards and guidelines related to examination of body fluids or tissues for the presence and quantity of substances such as drugs or poisons in ante- or post-mortem casework. Evidence examples include those substances and metabolites following ingestion, and might include physiological specimens such as blood, urine, hair, teeth, bone, spinal fluid, and organ and muscle tissue.

“A 2009 report by a committee of the National Research Council pointed out the need for improved standards for forensic science and improved analysis of forensic data,” said Roger Berger, director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. “Statisticians like Dr. Borror can provide valuable assistance in both of these areas. I am sure Connie’s input will be invaluable to this toxicology group.”

“Only 402 individuals were selected as members of NIST’s forensic science standards committees, and I’m so proud that Dr. Borror is one of those experts,” said Kimberly Kobojek, faculty director of New College’s forensics degree program. “Her expertise in statistics will be invaluable to the toxicology subcommittee. It is of great value to ASU and the forensics program to have such a representative on the ground-floor of the work that NIST is doing with the forensic sciences. Dr. Borror’s appointment further attests to the national recognition that ASU’s New College and the forensics program are receiving.”

Borror was chosen as one of fewer than 25 statisticians among the members in all of the Organization of Scientific Area Committees subcommittees, which include forensic science practitioners and administrators, researchers, professional association representatives and industry representatives. Statisticians have a vital role to play in elevating forensic standards, she said.

“Variability exists everywhere and must be quantified,” Borror explained. “Statisticians can aid experts in forensic science with activities such as designing experiments and quantifying uncertainty, for example, to better understand what variability is natural and what is not.”

The first meeting of the Toxicology Subcommittee will be held in January 2015, in Norman, Oklahoma. “I hope to be able to contribute, given my research in areas including experimental design, quality control and measurement systems analysis,” Borror said.

Borror is a fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Society for Quality. She has published more than 70 peer-reviewed journal articles and co-authored two books. Borror is a past editor of the professional journal Quality Engineering, serving as the publication’s first female editor.

“Connie is typical of New College faculty members who are known and respected nationally for their contributions to a range of fields,” Berger said.

“Improvement of the nation’s forensics practices requires the collaborations of scientists from many disciplines, as well as collaborations from other disciplines, such as the law,” Berger said. “In our School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, we offer degrees in both forensics and statistics. This proximity fosters collaborations between faculty and students from these different disciplines. Dr. Borror’s appointment to this committee is just one example of the fruits of these collaborations.”

The bachelor of science degree in forensics was added in 2013 at ASU’s West campus and has quickly become one of New College’s most popular programs. The degree is designed to produce graduates who are prepared for careers in forensics laboratories, and in the research and development of new technologies in the field. Career opportunities include employment in crime laboratories, police departments, government agencies, law firms, insurance companies, hospitals and consulting firms. Graduates may also have an interest in pursuing advanced degrees in the sciences or law.

New College’s bachelor of science in statistics is the only bachelor’s degree in the state of Arizona focused exclusively on statistics. Students in this major receive training in the latest statistical techniques using professional statistical software. They study the related areas of mathematics and computing, as well as a focus area chosen by the student. Statistics majors complete a senior project with an external agency. Graduates are well-prepared for employment or graduate studies.