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Topic: How Realistic Is Forensic Science In TV Shows? Post ReplyPost New Topic
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 02 September 2017 at 10:34am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

This is a good read:


I suspected as much. I always wondered how the characters in shows like CSI found the time to do both lab work and detective work. Double-shifts, surely?

Of course, suspension of disbelief is fine. It would have been tedious to see an entire episode set in a lab; plus, the characters in shows like CSI and NCIS would have only been in the first ten minutes of an episode if they'd disappeared to the lab. Having them be detectives as well as CSIs kept them on-screen and allowed for more entertainment, too.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 02 September 2017 at 11:44am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

The reference to a "morbid sense of humor" touches close to home, and relates in some ways to another thread.

Where it touches close to home lies in a story my grandfather used to tell. As I've mentioned before, he was a policeman in England. He told the tale of he and another constable carrying a dead body down a steep flight of stairs. Abuptly the corpse broke wind, loudly. The other bobby, taking the worst of this, proclaimed "If he's well enough to do that, he's well enough to bloody walk!"

This relates to the thread about the cop saying they only shoot Blacks. Worst kind of inappropriate comment, but almost certainly grounded in the kind of "gallows humor" that can evolve around many jobs.

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Eric Smearman
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Posted: 02 September 2017 at 4:00pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

My mom was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for a few years
when I was a kid. She told me how dark the other EMTs' sense of
humor could be. She didn't really go for such things, herself, but she
understood that that was a coping mechanism for the amount of
suffering and death they'd see on a regular basis. She also said that
the folks she rode with would never use such humor in front of
outsiders or "civilians" knowing how inappropriate or offensive it would
be.
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Jozef Brandt
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 1:39am | IP Logged | 4 post reply


I remember there was an interview (can't remember if I read it or watched it) with several actual forensics officers who watched CSI during it's early seasons and the number one thing they kept taking issue with was how quickly they received lab results.  They appreciated the science when it came to the forefront (An example of something they liked was Grissom's use of bug lifecycles to create timelines), but as others have mentioned they found the use of firearms by crime scene investigators to be laughable.
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Bill Collins
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 5:25am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

I knew things were sped up for tv,that`s why you never
see anyone lock their car on tv or go to the toilet
etc! A lot of youngsters seem to have taken up
forensic science at university,i wonder if they
imagine the glamour of CSI,not the long hours in those
white coveralls dealing with putrefying corpses etc!

My cousin is a fireman and he tells me they do develop
a morbid sense of humour,they(and other emergency
workers) call Motorcyclists `Organ Donors` because
they are so often the fatalities they deal with.
One story that sticks in my mind is him attending a
car crash,first thing they did was reach under the
dashboard to pull the fuses to prevent the risk of
electrical fire,he pulled a white object from
undeneath the dash,it was the driver`s kneecap.
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Joe S. Walker
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 6:31am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

I always loathed CSI - an utterly unrealistic picture of police work presented with a quasi-pornographic attention to the physical details of violent death and decomposition, all with an air of fatuous "cool".

(But I laughed at a moment on LAW & ORDER when one of the forensics team at a crime scene makes a suggestion about what happened. The detectives exchange a look: "These guys! They think they're cops.")


Edited by Joe S. Walker on 03 September 2017 at 6:31am
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Rob Ocelot
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 8:50am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

Michael Mann's MANHUNTER was my first taste of CSI-like technical work.  The line "You're so sly but so am I" is permanently etched into my brain.  The mention of ninhydrin made my 15-year-old self curious enough to seek out what it was in textbooks and I remained curious enough to continue higher education in biochemistry and organic chemistry to get a couple of degrees.  Never thought I'd end up in policing, but it was a great springboard to a broad range of jobs, including running a soil sampling lab, food science, medically applied radiation, and clinical trials.

What I do find puzzling and humorous are the people who see a profession depicted in TV, movies, etc and decide to be that -- they go to school for years and it takes them a lot of time and money to find out that it's never as exciting, easy or glamorous as it's depicted on TV.   Forensic investigators have to go through the ranks of regular policing just like any other officer.  You think the competition to become a detective is tough, try forensics.  All too often people mistake techs for investigators and TV doesn't help people make the distinction.  

I encounter many nursing students who, after a couple of years of didactic training drop of out the program within a month or two of starting their clinical training, because they apparently can't handle dealing with poop and vomit.  What the hell do they think nursing is about then?  The cool uniforms?  Working with attractive Doctors? 

There's a really funny exchange on the TV show ALF, where Gordon (Alf) is explaining who he was and what he did on Melmac before he came to earth.  He said he flunked out of dental school because he thought it would be easy.  "I thought how complicated could it be? My people only have four teeth!".  


Edited by Rob Ocelot on 03 September 2017 at 8:56am
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Bill Collins
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 9:14am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

Rob,have you read Red Dragon,on which Manhunter is
based,excellent book.Also,that's the trouble with
professions on tv,they edit out the tedious and bodily
function bits!
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Rob Ocelot
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 9:32am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

Definitely read RED DRAGON, but I can't for the life of me remember if I read the book before the film or the other way around -- very short time in between the two though... a week, tops.
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 10:01am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

What I do find puzzling and humorous are the people who see a profession depicted in TV, movies, etc and decide to be that -- they go to school for years and it takes them a lot of time and money to find out that it's never as exciting, easy or glamorous as it's depicted on TV.

***

I think the mindset is fine as a kid. Jeez, I wanted to be a motorcycle cop like the ones in CHiPs (notice how they only ever seemed to work day-shifts in sunshine - and deal with rather glamorous incidents, i.e. a circus elephant on the loose). That's fiction. As a kid, it's fine. As a kid, it was a nice aspiration, to think that I could one day be riding motorcycles in sunshine, forever meeting beautiful women and dealing with glamour.

But once you reach adulthood, you are supposed to grow out of that. Firstly, there's no Californian sunshine here where I am; and secondly, I'm sure a motorcycle cop would involve some routine and non-glamorous moments, i.e. pulling over taxis that had broken traffic laws or responding to drunken brawls.

I find it disconcerting that adults would be influenced by how a profession is depicted on TV. Other professions intrigued me as a kid, everything from astronaut to explorer, but as an adult, you should be in tune with reality. 
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Warren Scott
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Posted: 03 September 2017 at 7:25pm | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Well, most jobs are not as exciting as they are portrayed on TV and movies (I'm a small-town news reporter so I know.) But TV and movies are entertainment.
I don't think it's so bad for someone to be inspired by TV or movies to pursue a particular profession (Aren't there a number of people at NASA who watched "Star Trek"?)In some places, you might not be exposed to a particular profession any other way.
You just need a reality check at some point.
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 04 September 2017 at 2:38am | IP Logged | 12 post reply

Of course, the reality check is the most important thing.

It's fine to be inspired - as long as people know the difference. I remember reading an anecdote from a British police officer once, expressing frustration at once spending hours just standing at a railway station and guarding a crime scene. She said it took a lot of motivation and wasn't the most exciting aspect (she did speak about how it was necessary). Standing at a station for hours to guard a crime scene can't be fun.

People, inspired by fictional shows, need to be aware of ALL aspects of the profession that inspires them. If someone does pursue a CSI-type role, they need to be aware that 90% of it will have little in common with what Gil Grissom and others do.
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Marcio Ferreira
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Posted: 04 September 2017 at 8:37am | IP Logged | 13 post reply

I have been working for years as a Forensic Fraud Examiner, in 2012 during an ACFE conference in Orlando, there was a workshop and this was one of the main topics discussed during the explanation of how modern TV is damaging the people's perception of what experts do things, it is getting hard to please the Jury, because they tend to expect rocket science in the worst unrealistic way possible.
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Joe S. Walker
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Posted: 06 September 2017 at 4:38am | IP Logged | 14 post reply

Another thing about CSI: it was highly authoritarian. Every episode had the message that the police could find out anything and were never wrong.
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Michael Casselman
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Posted: 06 September 2017 at 9:09am | IP Logged | 15 post reply

On the contrary, Joe, I found CSI to point a very bright light at shortcuts that police would take in an investigation in order to nab a suspect (whether they were the actual guilty party or not), whereas the lab would examine things with a more critical eye. Several episodes dealt with corrupt cops, cops who took undue shortcuts, or even botched investigations based on their own prejudices or preconceptions. There were even several episodes that dealt with how previous techs had made mistakes during investigations or reopened investigations once new evidence had been introduced.
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 06 September 2017 at 9:14am | IP Logged | 16 post reply

I remember some of those, Michael.

There was an interesting reversal in a Season 1 episode. I can't recall the details, but Warwick was trying to nab a particular suspect at any cost (he had prejudices) whilst Captain Brass, the cop, was attempting to convince him to be more analytical/unbiased.

I liked that they did that.
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Brian O'Neill
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Posted: 06 September 2017 at 10:45am | IP Logged | 17 post reply

CSI: MIAMI took this idea to extremes, with the Rex Linn character being shown to be mildly inept at best, and, later, a flat-out jerkwad, while Superman Horatio Caine used his magic sunglasses to save the day.
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Bill Collins
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Posted: 06 September 2017 at 1:50pm | IP Logged | 18 post reply

Brian...you just made me think of Jim Carrey's Horatio
Caine impression!
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Brian O'Neill
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Posted: 06 September 2017 at 4:20pm | IP Logged | 19 post reply

"I before E..." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOxUv8kZ6pQ
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Robert Cosgrove
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Posted: 09 September 2017 at 6:49am | IP Logged | 20 post reply

"TV is damaging the people's perception of what experts do things, it is getting hard to please the Jury, because they tend to expect rocket science in the worst unrealistic way possible."

Lawyers have a name for it:  "the CSI effect."
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