How Television Corrupts Your Perception of Forensic Analysis

Since it first began airing in 2000, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” has been influential in a number of ways, not all of which have been positive. Many viewers want to interpret the show as pure fact. In reality, though, people are often confusing genuine investigative procedures with entertainment.

There are several myths that are perpetuated due to the significant presence of criminal justice television. These myths are responsible for misrepresenting scientific procedures, forensic analysts, evidence collection, and the amount of time needed to conduct experiments. If people fail to separate fact from fiction, then they risk misunderstanding how the criminal justice system actually works.

The Truth Behind Scientific Procedure and Forensic Analysis

Though forensic labs possess state-of-the-art equipment, few of them would be capable of the science presented on countless TV shows. For instance, there are numerous instances where a character will take a piece of evidence, place it into a machine, and secure valuable information in a matter of moments. Real science does not work this way. There are no omniscient computers that are capable of generating a solution for every problem they are presented with. There are many steps involved with scientific analysis, and it takes a long time for an analyst to secure helpful information.

Television also has a problem accurately portraying forensic analysts. Many characters are presented as possessing a comprehensive knowledge of science; they are DNA analysts, ballistic examiners, and highly trained entomologists. Most analysts, though, are specialists in a particular field. They may be adept at lab work, but many of them have no experience collecting evidence or studying insects.

How TV Misrepresents Evidence Collection

Forensic evidence is another topic that is misrepresented by television. Despite their best efforts to collect crime scene materials, forensic analysts are often forced to deal with a lack of incriminating evidence. The world of “CSI” seems to bless its characters with an endless amount of scientific data, but in real life, analysts must work much harder to find evidence that can place a suspect at a crime scene.

The Work Involved With Genuine Forensic Analysis

One concept that many people fail to grasp is that crimes cannot be solved in a one hour time frame. Most investigations take countless hours of work in the lab and the field, and even then analysts may not obtain enough evidence to find the criminal. Television makes everything seem fast and effortless. Real science is tedious, and the rewards are far more elusive.

While shows such as “CSI” and its counterparts are entertaining, they should never be interpreted as accurate representations of forensic analysis. People must be able to distinguish fantasy from reality in order to prevent their perception of the criminal justice system from becoming dangerously distorted.