Top Five TV Shows That Get Forensic Science All Wrongon March 3rd, 2012 at 2:01 AM
When people find out that I’m a forensic scientist, they always ask if its like what you see on TV. My answer is….not even close. Warning: this is going to be a silly yet and brutally honest editorial type post more for fun than anything else.
Here is my list of:
“Top Five TV Shows That Get Forensic Science All Wrong”
First of all, I love Dexter but it’s totally not real. I cringe when he walks into a “crime scene” and says, “Based on this blood spatter, the victim was standing here, got shot, turned, ran down the hallway, laid on the ground for five minutes, crawled to the door, and died. This all happened 6 hours ago…”, blah blah blah, you get the picture. Blood spatter can be used to position the victim and suspects and recreate the probable sequence of events, but it can’t be determined in a matter of seconds. Timeline estimation (“this all happened 6 hours ago”) can’t be determined by blood spatter and lastly, when Dexter goes back to the office carrying his blood stain evidence, he’s not going to crack it open with everybody in the agency walking by peering over his shoulder shedding their own DNA all over it. Forensic analysis takes place in a sterile environment with limited access. Same goes for crime scenes. Everybody in the cast makes there way to the murder scene, picks up evidence, walks through blood, and assesses the situation. This just doesn’t happen in the real world. Who goes in and when is very methodical, documented and controlled.
Wow. This is one show I can’t stand to watch. These guys could probably tell you how the earth was made if you gave them a Big Mac for brain fuel and five minutes to think about it. Forensic Science can do some pretty amazing things but nothing like the insane stretches of reality put forth here.
On this show, forensic labs are in their own time warp. DNA analysis can be completed in an hour and fingerprint matches are done on site. Detectives tell the scientist what they need, get back to the precinct and theirs a phone message waiting for them saying the analysis is done and they just need to go to trial. Good thing there’s a lot of action and interesting story lines because the forensic aspect doesn’t hold water.
To be fair, this a “reality” show, and doesn’t really deal with forensics, but they do have purported experts periodically to verify the authenticity of a given item. The one that really takes the cake is the “handwriting expert.” Are you serious? Absolutely, positively no way this guy can whip out his magnifying glass and tell you whether or not a signature is from Abe Lincoln. We are supposed to believe that he has memorized all the characteristics of hundreds of famous people’s handwriting and can recall them from his super mind any time Rick has a question. In “real life”, the questioned signature would have to be compared to a set of “known” signatures, side by side, and almost always with the aid of microscopes and special light sources. Unless the signature is an obvious forgery, this comparison can literally take weeks to complete. If in fact the signature is “real”, it can take even longer because the examiner takes even more time looking for differences. This guy, really, really makes my skin crawl.
Okay, I confess. This is one show that shouldn’t be on the list because they do a good job, but a needed another show to make the top five. This show realistically portrays the time that’s involved for analysis, it talks about preserving the chain of evidence, it has accurate depictions of expert testimony in court and the forensic scientist don’t overstate their conclusions. I actually watch this one.
If you want an accurate depiction of forensic life, I suggest “Forensic Files“, which appears to chronical actual cases with statements from the scientist, detectives and attorneys involved.