Friday, December 4, 2009

CSI effect

At just about the same time I decided to do a post about forensic pathologists, I was asked to write an editorial for Anil Aggrawal's Internet Journal of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Vol. 11, no. 2. I first thought of writing about the effects of the so-called "CSI effect," but I figured the readers would know more than me about that. Instead, I wrote about the visibility and prevalence of women in the field. If you care to, you can read it:

No "Glass Ceiling"

Here I will define "CSI effect" and add relevant quotes from the popular media and the professional literature. The term refers to the unrealistic expectations that the many television crime dramas plant in the minds of jurors, criminals, and the public. The accuracy and expediency that forensic science delivers in the 1-hour time frame is applied to real world investigations and viewers of programs like "CSI" are said to make unreasonable demands of practitioners and prosecutors in the courtroom. At the same time, suspects learn from the same shows how to tamper with evidence and become more adept at covering up their crimes. A positive benefit of the "CSI effect" is the increased enrollment in forensic training programs, although some police departments criticize the academics for offering coursework that does not adequately prepare graduates for practical forensic work.

"Real prosecutors’ offices are constrained by their limited resources. While some jurisdictions have access to some of the 'bells and whistles' equipment depicted in television dramas, those resources are usually reserved for the most serious crimes. In Maricopa County, as in other counties, most felonies do not involve high-profile crimes and lengthy trials. The majority of prosecutions are for lower-level offenses like auto theft, drug possession, and assault. These cases often do not yield irrefutable physical or scientific evidence of guilt or innocence."--"The CSI Effect: Fact or Fiction," The Yale Law Review

"Stoked by the technical wizardry they see on the tube, many Americans find themselves disappointed when they encounter the real world of law and order. Jurors increasingly expect forensic evidence in every case, and they expect it to be conclusive."--"The CSI Effect," U.S. News and World Report

"The fictional criminalists speak with a certainty that their real-life counterparts do not. 'We never use the word match,' [Lisa] Faber [of the N.Y.P.D. Crime Lab], a thirty-eight-year-old Harvard graduate, told me. 'The terminology is very important. On TV, they always like to say words like match, but we say similar, or could have come from or is associated with. Virtually all the forensic-science tests depicted on CSI—including analyses of bite marks, blood spatter, handwriting, firearm and tool marks, and voices, as well as of hair and fibers—rely on the judgments of individual experts and cannot easily be subjected to statistical verification."--"The CSI Effect: The Truth About Forensic Science," The New Yorker

"The almost instant turnaround of DNA tests is what TV writers refer to as a 'time cheat,' a trick necessary to get the story wrapped up. In reality, due to the screening, extraction, and replication process (not to mention the backlog), DNA tests can take months. And the results are rarely, if ever, 100% conclusive."--"The CSI Effect," Neatorama

"Real-life investigations, of course, take a lot longer than they do on television. 'We don't show any of the immense amount of documentation that has to be done in the field,' said [Elizabeth] Devine, the CSI producer. 'Nobody wants to see someone sitting at their desk taking notes.' Real-life forensic scientists are also often too busy to focus on a single case."--"'CSI Effect' Is Mixed Blessing for Real Crime Labs," National Geographic

"When 'CSI' trumps common sense, then you have a systemic problem. The National District Attorneys Association is deeply concerned about the effect of 'CSI.' "--"The 'CSI Effect: Does the TV Crime Drama Influence How Jurors Think?," CBS News

"When scientific evidence is not relevant, prosecutors must find more convincing ways to explain the lack of relevance to jurors. Most importantly, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges should understand, anticipate, and address the fact that jurors enter the courtroom with a lot of information about the criminal justice system and the availability of scientific evidence."--"The 'CSI Effect: Does It Really Exist?," National Institute of Justice Journal

My Uncle Chuck is a crime scene investigator on the Springfield (Illinois) Police Force, so I will ask him how he feels about this post, the CSI effect in general, and my editorial.

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