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How accurate is CSI?

AnatomyHow close to reality is the CSI team that comes to the crime scene in gray blazer, satin blouse, and high heels? The truth is, they look great but that's far from the reality.

Making a fashion statement is not what crime scene investigators want or need to do. Shows such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" have been among the nation's most-watched programs for almost a decade, but they perpetuate a number of inaccuracies, fashion being the least egregious. The inaccuracies in these shows have to do with stretching the science beyond what normally occurs, or taking computer graphics and making science do something it can't.

Take, for an example, an episode of "NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service" where criminologists investigate a murder at a skating rink. The place had ultraviolet lights and when they turned on those lights, lo and behold, this long fluorescent trail of blood appeared, embedded in the ice. Well, there is a way to make blood fluoresce, but you have to spray it with a chemical first. On its own, blood doesn't fluoresce under ultraviolet light. And there's more: an analysis or test that may take a few hours in these fictitious forensic labs can take days or weeks to complete in real life.

The shows' bizarre murder methods, weapons, and plots are also far-fetched. A woman murders her adopted daughter's birth mother by spiking her coffee with methamphetamine. A rabies outbreak starts at a tattoo parlor. A rising cornbread batter sets off a bomb.

These shows have a dramatic issue that they spice up with bizarre crimes and a little science. They embellish reality to fit the story lines. M of the work done by a real crime lab involves things like bloodstain pattern and DNA analysis, evidence in crimes like stabbings, rapes, and robberies that are more ordinary than the cases portrayed on shows like CSI and NCIS.

So you want to be a CSI? Just being an ardent CSI fan isn't going to make you a good forensic scientist. What should students who want to enter the forensic science field study? Science is the key: biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics are all good majors for someone looking to go into forensic science. Students who lack an aptitude for science can opt for a career in law or law enforcement instead.

And for those who do pursue forensic science, it's important they know the reality isn't like on the shows. The persons portrayed on TV don't really exist.

Contributed by: Joana Rodeiro


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