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Contributor III

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

What do you think are among the biggest misconceptions about forensic chemistry that are portrayed in the entertainment industry?  Share your favorite examples of forensic fallacies.   Also, let us know when they got it right.

11 Replies
New Contributor

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

What a great discussion!

Well, the most annoying thing that is frequently is observing them applying a drop of blood directly to a MS and then displaying the spectrum within 2 seconds.

Although I understand that TV time is short I think it really contributes to the misconception that forensic sciences can analyze all samples in no time and can provide unequivocal results.

This "CSI effect" then transpires into the courtroom and sometimes leads to a preconceived notion and unrealistic expectations by the jury, judges, and lawyers.

The same is true for DNA evidence - that seems to be the expected universal and unequivocal evidence that should be introduced into every case.

Thanks for starting this thread, Mark.

Oliver

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New Contributor

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

I agree with Oliver that the SPEED of forensic analyis is an enormous misconception.

I think there are plenty of internet memes making fun of the seemingly neverending ability to "enhance" an image or frame from a surveilance camera.

Also just the image of a lab on tv is always interesting, with black lights, bubbling fluids, and everything in a flask is either bright blue or fluorescent green.

TV fingerprint analysis is hilarious, as it only takes one scan of the lifted print, super fancy graphics on the computer screen showing attempted matches, then **tada** the suspect's mugshot pops up from the super-secret database they have.

Those are just a few of my TV forensic peeves.  I'm sure there are many more.

--Corey

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New Contributor

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

i actually just wrote a research paper on the common misconceptions between real life forensics and tv shows. One of the major misconceptions was the universal databases that have every type of tire track or every type of material in them. Another major misconception is just the amount of time it takes to do some of the tests...most can not be done in just a mere 5-10 minute span.

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Previous Community Member
Not applicable

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

Forensic Science is not as easy or as glamorous as it appears on TV.  Forensic labs are underfunded and overworked.  The number of new university forensic science programs has exploded in recent years, due in large part to the CSI effect.  But many of these new grads cannot find work as state and local crime labs and ME labs are cutting budgets due to the economy.  The employment exchange at this year's American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting (which I attended) was swamped with too many job seekers and too few job openings.

--Sheldon  

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New Contributor

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

Well we can only hope that viewers have gained some appreciation for chemistry, even if some of what is portrayed is "hollywood" sometimes.

I can remember the days when EVERYBODY hated chemistry! Now it is "cool".

Laura

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New Contributor II

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

Forensic analysis takes time. The time factor in TV shows or movies gives an improper perception/idea to the viewer and builds unrealistic expectation.

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New Contributor

Re: Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

I am still a graduate student in Chemistry, but I have encountered many people who don't know anything about chemistry. I spend so much time explaining the science in some of the the crime shows, I don't even get to follow the plot. What is even sadder is that there are a lot of educated people, including scientists in other fields, who don't understand that the science in those shows is bogus. This is why I spent most of my undergraduate years educating the public on basic science through demo shows.

Edit- I don't think they do a terrible job of the lab science (I'm not really sure how they do on the anthropology, though) on Bones. At least they usually get the basics right, and they acknowledge that instrumentation takes time to run... Occasionally, they butcher a pronounciation or a concept, though.(It actually makes my skin crawl when I hear them mess up something really bad...)

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Previous Community Member
Not applicable

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

I fully agree with what is being said here, in many ways. However, let us entertain the "value" and 'benefits" that these misconceptions brought to the field of science, I meean the hard sciences. As an educator, these misconceptions gave me a window to the need for more practical application of the "hard" sciences, making it relevent to the public, like Forenscis. Hence, misconceptions become a diagnostic tool for what is ailing our communities regarding the sciences.

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New Contributor

Misconceptions About Forensic Chemistry in Books, TV and Movies

They make it look so easy and glamorous.

Forensic Chemistry is more about "figuring out" witha lot of disciplined undestanding!

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