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New York’s Chief Medical Examiner Seeks to Lead in DNA Research
Dr. Sampson, who had been acting chief since 2013, officially took the helm in December with the goal of pushing state-of-the-art research in DNA evidence collection and genetic investigations of mysterious deaths. But she does so at a time when the office is seeking to right itself after high-profile mistakes — a technician’s mishandling of rape evidence; a body that went missing — sparked city investigations and risked tarnishing its reputation.
More recently, the medical examiner’s office also found itself thrust into the debate over the police killing of Eric Garner on Staten Island after the agency officially linked his death to an officer’s chokehold.
In an interview in her office, shortly after her appointment, Dr. Sampson said she hoped that a focus on quality assurance, along with a new lab supervisor and a 24-hour operations center for tracking bodies as they move from street to morgue, would curb human errors. She said that those isolated mistakes had not undermined the advanced science that was performed at the lab and was often presented at trial.
“The science was never in question,” she said.
Despite the sheen of forensic testing in television crime dramas, it remains a profession troubled by an image problem. “It’s not a glamorous field,” Dr. Sampson conceded.
At the same time, it is one that increasingly attracts women. A majority of the medical examiners in New York City are women, Dr. Sampson said.
While most of her own mentors were men, including Dr. Hirsch, she said she did have one important female role model: her mother, who graduated from medical school in 1960 when there were few women doing so.
“She always told me if you want to do it, you can do it,” Dr. Sampson said. “That’s how I was raised; that’s how I hope I’m raising my daughter.”
Think expedition to the rain forest, but one where you’ll need a MetroCard to get around. The microbial life of the New York subways turns out to be as rich, odd and confounding as the city itself. A team of scientists and student volunteers spent 18 months collecting DNA from 466 stations in the New York City subway system. They found some pretty interesting (and previously unknown!) things.