lørdag den 27. februar 2010

How Trustworthy Is Forensics Information From Fiction

Thank you very much to Brooklyn White for writing this fascinating guest post for my blog!

They hold us captive not just by the stories they tell or the crimes they portray, but also by the characters who solve these crimes and the way in which they go about it. Forensics is a field that’s gaining in popularity by the day thanks to television programs like CSI, Bones, Criminal Minds and others. People know much more about fingerprint analysis, DNA testing, blood spatters and other methods of criminal investigation that were relatively unknown because they were conducted behind closed doors and away from the public eye. But how accurate and trustworthy is the information shown on TV?

Well, if you were to go by reputable sources, not really all that accurate. For one, television shows and books gloss over the finer details; and with any amount of time being compressed into a few pages or a few minutes of screen time, it’s easy to assume that crime-solving is a piece of cake that can be achieved within a matter of an hour or so. But the truth is that the solving of a crime takes much longer than is shown on screen or portrayed in a book – so the first misconception about forensics from fiction is that it allows crimes to be solved very quickly.

Also, the lead characters in books, movies and television series are always able to establish without a doubt that a particular person is the criminal – the evidence points squarely to them and no one else. In real life however, it’s not always a cut and dry decision. So the second misconception about forensics from fiction is that it always allows the criminal to be identified without a doubt.

Real life trials are not as interesting or speedy as those shown on TV or described in books, but not many juries are aware of this nugget of information. So when they sit in on trials, they are not satisfied with the nature of the evidence presented because it is far less interesting, intriguing and concrete like that shown on forensic crime shows on television or described in books. This compromises their ability to deliver the right verdict. The third misconception about forensics from fiction is that the explanations are not always as simple as portrayed.

And finally, we come to the most important misconception of all – forensic science is not always accurate as portrayed by fiction. It may be hard to believe, but DNA can be fabricated, and if criminals are capable of this, they can always find ways to sabotage other evidence as well. So even though a forensic investigation may point to a certain person as the criminal, there is always an element of doubt.

This guest post is contributed by Brooklyn White, who writes on the topic of Forensic Science Technician Schools . She can be reached at brookwhite26-AT-Gmail.com.

Hvor pålidelige er retsmedicinske oplysninger i fiktion?
De fængsler os, ikke bare gennem de historier, de fortæller, eller de forbrydelser, de fremstiller, men også gennem de personer som løser forbrydelserne, og måden de gør det på. Retsmedicin er et felt som vinder frem dag for dag, takket være tv-programmer som CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), Bones, Criminal Minds med mere. Seerne ved meget mere om fingeraftryk, DNA-prøver, blodstænk og andre testmetoder, som tidligere var relativt ukendte, fordi de blev udført bag lukkede døre. Men hvor præcis og pålidelig er den viden, vi får via TV?

Tjah, ifølge pålidelige kilder er de ikke særlig præcise. Dels skøjter tv-programmer og bøger let hen over de finere detaljer, dels bliver længere tidsforløb presset sammen på få sider eller nogle få minutters skærmtid, så det er let at antage at en forbrydelse kan opklares på en times tid. Men sandheden er, at opklaringen varer meget længere, end det fremgår på skærmen eller af bogen. Så første misforståelse er, at ved hjælp af retsmedicin kan forbrydelserne opklares meget hurtigt.

Hovedpersonerne i bogen, filmen eller TV-serien er også meget hurtige til at afgøre, at en bestemt person er forbryderen – bevismaterialet peger entydigt mod denne person og ingen anden. I virkeligheden er det imidlertid ikke altid en fiks og færdig beslutning. Så den anden misforståelse om retsmedicin er, at forbryderen altid kan identificeres uden skygge af tvivl.

Virkelige retssager er ikke så interessante eller så hurtigt afgjorte som dem vi ser på TV eller i bøger, men det aner mange jury-medlemmer ikke. Så når de sidder med i retssalen, er de ikke tilfredse med det bevismateriale, de bliver præsenteret for, fordi det ikke er nær så spændende, fascinerende eller konkret, som det de ser i udsendelser om retsmedicin. Det påvirker deres evne til at nå frem til den rette kendelse. Den tredje misforståelse om retsmedicin er, at forklaringerne ikke altid er så enkle eller klare, som de bliver fremstillet.

Og til slut kommer vi til den største misforståelse af dem alle – retsmedicin er ikke altid så præcis, som den bliver fremstillet i fiktion. Det er måske svært at tro på, men DNA kan forfalskes, og hvis de kriminelle er i stand til det, kan de altid finde måder at sabotere andet bevismateriale på. Så selv om den retsmedicinske undersøgelse peger på en bestemt person, er der altid en rest af tvivl.

Dette gæsteindlæg er skrevet af Brooklyn White, som skriver om emnet retsmedicin på siden Forensic Science Technician Schools. Mail: brookwhite26 (at) Gmail.com

13 kommentarer:

Uriah Robinson sagde ...

A very interesting post from Brooklyn, thanks Dorte. I think the most important point is that juries unless presented with compelling forensic and DNA evidence may be reluctant to convict and this is dangerous.

Philip sagde ...

It is not entirely clear, but I take it White in some capacity works for or represents these 'Forensic Science Technician Schools', of whatever sort they may be. At any rate, this may account for her failure to mention the obverse of her fourth and final misconception. If criminals can fabricate DNA and otherwise distort evidence, so can forensic scientists and technicians. There have been some spectacular cases of this in the US and on the grand scale, notably where a forensic specialist has gone over to the police side of the fence and helped them by fabricating evidence. One woman in the mid-West did this for so many years they are still reviewing past cases. But deliberate falsification of findings or sheer incompetence has caused huge problems in NY, Chicago, Oklahoma, Houston, Oregon...and of course notoriously in Ontario to the North. One odd case was a police officer in Santa Clara who fabricated both a DNA report and the analyst whose fictional signature he put at the bottom. But the point is this has been a huge problem, and it's a hell of a lot easier for a forensic scientist to fabricate and testify to false scientific evidence than it is for a criminal to do so, and Brooklyn White, whatever her vested interests in the business, would have done well to mention it.

Margot Kinberg sagde ...

Dorte - Thanks for hosting Brooklyn White. Forensic science is certainly a lot more complicated, time-consuming and imperfect than is shown on television and in the movies, and I'm glad this was brought out. Criminals can fake evidence (I've just finished a book where that happens, actually), and so can forensic scientists. And of course, forensics teams can be wrong. There are other ways, too, in which forensic science is far from perfect. This is the reason for which, when I read crime fiction that focuses on forensics, I like it best when that aspect of an investigation is portrayed accurately. It generally isn't on television or film.

Dorte H sagde ...

Norman: if you mean people should not form an opinion on DNA evidence exclusively, you are absolutely right. But if I were a jury member, I might also be reluctant to convict :)

Philip: yes she does, but I don´t know anything about her qualifications either. You certainly raise an important point!

Margot: perhaps, on the whole, the film version works best if you have read the novel first? ;O

NB: if you have time, could you please visit my flash fiction blog today? I have something I would like to share with you ;)

seana sagde ...

Nice guest blog. I did have some idea of the first three points, but had no idea of the fourth, which seems kind of surprising as I live virtually right next door to Santa Clara, which Philip gave as an example. I would have thought this would be prime material for one of the forensic shows and perhaps it already has. I don't watch many of them these days.

Dorte H sagde ...

Seana: thank you.

I agree that ut could make a good show, or a good thriller (in the hands of the right writer).

pattinase (abbott) sagde ...

My son, a prosecutor, says the tv shows get it wrong much more often than novels do.

Kelly sagde ...

Thanks for sharing this post, Dorte. Very interesting!

I also found the fourth point especially interesting.

Dorte H sagde ...

Patti: I am no expert myself, but what your son says corresponds with what I have always thought.

Kelly: I think many people tend to see DNA evidence as some kind of ´gospel truth´. Perhaps because it is still new and exciting?

Sandra sagde ...

A very interesting and informative post. Thank you.

Dorte H sagde ...

Sandra: you are welcome.

farmlanebooks sagde ...

I did a degree in forensic science so I can only agree with everything in this wonderful guest post. I am always shaking my head at crime novels which make out test results can come back in a few hours. Some of the tests I did took 3 days and that is assuming you can drop everything you are doing at that moment to put that particular test to the front of the queue - ie not likely! I wish more crime writers had a proper understanding of forensic science.

Dorte H sagde ...

Jackie: I am glad you can confirm that it is correct, and you are right that this is useful information for crime writers and readers.

I think it is true, though, what Patti Abbott´s son says: the tv shows are worse than the books. In my opinion one of the differences between pulp fiction and proper crime novels is the degree of credibility. I prefer reading (and try to write) stuff that is as accurate and credible as possible.