Communicating Science by Investigation (CSI)

by webmaster on May 12, 2009

Has anything popularised science to the same extent that recent programs such as CSI, Law & Order, Murdoch Mysteries have in recent times? One only has to look at the fact that these programs are referenced countless times day after day in newspapers as inspiration for the large numbers of young people that are now studying forensic science in schools and colleges, to say nothing of the amount of such courses that are now available.

But how many of these contain accurate representations of science, and how much of actual forensics is not based on science at all – or at most is based only on non-peer reviewed science.

In terms of the representations of science in programs such as CSI or Bones, it always makes me laugh when a sample from a body becomes a printout from a HPLC in only minutes, but then I have long years of experience standing in front of said HPLC’s and have some idea how long the process actually takes.
But reading an article in today’s NYT by Henry Fountain ‘Plugging Holes in the Science of Forensics’ made me think about how little of the actual science in forensics is based on peer review. I recommend you read it for yourself, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/12/science/12fore.html?_r=1&ref=science
Forensic science itself may not go back much further as a topic than the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle (himself also interested in the subject) but in some cases at least Doyle recognised the need for peer review. Holmes had written monographs (on the tracing of footsteps; and the distinction between the ashes of the various tobaccoes to name but two) and we must assume that these published monographs would have had some limited peer review, though to find a peer for Holmes would be a task in itself!
For modern forensic science, we have to have concerns about non-peer reviewed techniques being responsible for sending people to jail… or worse!

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