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Television Media

Is The 'CSI Phenomenon' Good For Science? 815

Tycoon Guy writes "With CSI: Crime Scene Investigation airing its 100th episode this week, I wonder, how do Slashdot readers feel about the show, and its two spinoffs? On the one hand, they've caused a boom in the popularity of forensic science college courses, and they glamorize geeks bent over microscopes, rather than smarmy lawyers. On the other hand, they may also promote an inaccurate view of science: prosecutors throughout the country now worry about juries that refuse to accept eyewitness accounts or even outright confessions, and instead exclusively demand the kind of forensic evidence they see on CSI. But of course, in the real world, you don't get a test like that in mere seconds - or without spending a substantial amount of money. So where does CSI rate on the geek scale for you?"
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Is The 'CSI Phenomenon' Good For Science?

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  • Grade (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Raven42rac ( 448205 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:44PM (#10846568)
    I have not watched much of the show, but I don't much care for shows that wrap everything up in a neat little box and make people think that all crimes are solved in an hour, give or take commercials. There is some cool technology, however.
    • Re:Grade (Score:4, Funny)

      by deft ( 253558 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:56PM (#10846750) Homepage
      "I have not watched much of the show, but I don't much care for shows that wrap everything up in a neat little box and make people think that all crimes are solved in an hour, give or take commercials."

      I take it you're not a big fan of star trek either eh? :)
    • Re:Grade (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jargonCCNA ( 531779 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:57PM (#10846772) Homepage Journal
      Umm... there have been several episodes of CSI (and, if I recall correctly, though I hardly ever watch it, at least one of CSI Miami) where the team couldn't solve the crime; that something was missing that they just couldn't track down.

      See, the CSIs aren't perfect. They miss things. In fact, a few weeks ago, one of the characters' home lives is falling apart because of her dedication to her job. I wouldn't exactly call that glamourising the profession.
    • Re:Grade (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sgant ( 178166 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:08PM (#10846919) Homepage Journal
      I only saw the first two episodes of CSI:New York and just couldn't take it anymore. I mean, is it set like 10 years in the future or something because they're using technology that doesn't exist yet. And I guess the NYPD has one of the most sophisticated computer systems in the world! In one episode they were trying to triangulate the location of where a photograph was taken. They scanned in the photo of this girl with the skyline behind them. They simply clicked on the Empire State building and it gave them the exact hight, then they clicked on another building and the same thing happened, then they input the height of the girl and with a complete detailed 3D model of Manhattan they flew/zoomed to the exact address of where the photo was taken. Amazing. I hate crap like that.

      I mean, wouldn't it have been more interesting/dramatic if they looked at the photo, saw the skyline and one of the cops opens a book with the heights of buildings and does some writing on a scrap of paper and then looks at a wall map. One of the other cops could have said "what are you doing, how can you find her like that?" and the other cop could say "didn't you ever take Trig in high school?". Believable and real. Also, another episode they were able to track a rat that swallowed a bullet with a hand held scanner ala Total Recall....I shit you not...

      Now, the original CSI doesn't seem to do as much of this. Granted it has a little, but it's more believable.
      • Re:Grade (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ThomaMelas ( 631856 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:15PM (#10847014)
        I hate how they show PC's being used in forensics work on TV. I work for a company that does DVRs for CCTV systems and a ton of people call up wanting a system that will take a compressed file and let you Zoom it 50x and read newsprint at 200 ft away.
        • Re:Grade (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:26PM (#10847859)
          I can't count the number of times I've seen a CSI episode where they start off with a thumbnail-sized image, and "enhance" (exact wording) it until it has the clarity and resolution of a 1Mbit image. Where did the extra pixels come from? Computerland??
        • Re:Grade (Score:5, Informative)

          by loraksus ( 171574 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @08:13PM (#10848303) Homepage
          Goddamnit, indeed.
          Not to sound like a tinfoil hat wearing american or anything, but I suspect that the shows are reinforcing the fact that the cameras are actually useful.

          The vast majority of cameras out there are pure crap, designed with resisting abuse in mind instead of quality. Some places put a lot of money into cameras (Worked at Mervyns for a while, loss had some nice zoom lenses)

          Still, if the video is stored, the quality will be dismal - cameras regularly record 10 or 24 hours onto a standard 2 hour vhs (the 6hrs slp ones). Not only that, but they mix the feeds from 8 cameras into a single scene.

          You won't realistically get better than a 320x240 image (if you get half that, I would be impressed) per scene off the tape, and that just isn't enough to be useful. Digital? Not much better, disk space is cheap and re-usable though.

          Quite simply, they can tell if you're wearing a hat, maybe how long your hair is, etc. Not much else.
          • Re:Grade (Score:4, Interesting)

            by zuzulo ( 136299 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @09:31PM (#10849153) Homepage
            Just because the vast majority of cameras out there are crappy analog stuff does not mean that there are not high quality cameras available. I routinely store large quantities of high quality digital surveillance video from cameras that have high enough resolution to read your licence plate clearly at 25 ft in low light conditions and enough frames per second to catch at least one usable frame of any vehicle passing through.

            Las Vegas has the most well defined standards for legally admissable surveillance footage, and for them 3-5 frames per second is acceptable. We routinely use and store locally 10-18 frames per second. The metric generally goes something like this:

            real time feed: 10-30+ fps
            local disk storage: 5-18 fps
            local internet feed: 5-10 fps with 1-2 sec latency
            remote internet feed: 3-5 fps with 5-10 sec latency
            remote disk archive: 3-5 fps

            Since the high quality stuff is digital and you have multiple frames of relevant data you can also do some fairly interesting processing to enhance image quality by interpolation. And some other nice tricks, some of which work in real time. And once you have digital video on disk there are lots of other interesting things you can do. Which is all i can really say about that. ;-)

            In any case, the automated video surveillance stuff is improving quite quickly these days.
        • Re:Grade (Score:3, Insightful)

          by theancient2 ( 527101 )
          On the great list of Television Computer Cliches, "enhancing" photos is definitely #1...

          #2 must be visualised searching. If you're trying to match fingerprints (faces, shoes, tire treads, etc), the computer must show each on the screen for a fraction of a second. Like how Google flashes each of its 8,058,044,651 pages every time you do a search... oh wait, real computers don't do that.

          #3 is the sound effects computers make. Any event must be accompanied by a beep. When it's searching through those fingerp
      • Re:Grade (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:29PM (#10847197) Homepage
        I recall in at least one episode of the original CSI, Warrick wanted to use some nifty "electronic nose" device that was on loan from some company. Grissom made him do it the "old-fashioned" way for budget reasons.
        • Re:Grade (Score:3, Informative)

          by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 )
          Yes, but Grissom later ordered the product, as it came with a rather useful database of chromatographic data.
      • Re:Grade (Score:5, Interesting)

        by plover ( 150551 ) * on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:45PM (#10848074) Homepage Journal
        Amazing. I hate crap like that.

        Personally, I love crap like that. Because it's cool to demonstrate to people that such software exists today.

        Think about it -- how difficult is that software to write? You just described its functional specifications and wrapped them in a single paragraph, including complaints. Sure, it would need to be customized on a city-by-city basis, but for a city the size of New York it wouldn't be impossible.

        As a matter of fact, I thought the whole idea was so cool I just now googled for more info. I found searching for the terms AeroTriangulation found a few software vendors who have products that combine maps and photos. Rockware seems to sell a lot of it. And I remembered that in a previous Slashdot story that there's a company performing a photolocation service! Here's the article. []

        So, isn't it actually even cooler that the technology you reported them using was actually lower tech than the current state of the art in photolocation software? In reality nobody has to click on the Empire State Building, because the software already recognizes it! How cool is that?

    • Re:Grade (Score:3, Informative)

      I have not watched much of the show, but I don't much care for shows that wrap everything up in a neat little box and make people think that all crimes are solved in an hour, give or take commercials.

      You should watch the show "The First 48" on A&E. It follows dectivees on two murders, from the minute they get the call to the end of the first 48 hours, then sometimes a follow up from days, months or years later. It's all unscripted and real. Sometimes they solve the crime, sometimes they don't. It'
    • Re:Grade (Score:5, Funny)

      by fenix down ( 206580 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:18PM (#10847791)
      It's not so much that they wrap everything up, it's just that the entire Miami police department apparently consists of the angsty guy from NYPD Blue driving around in a Hummer. The fucking FBI doesn't even dare challenge this guy's jurisdiction. State laws, federal laws, doesn't matter, Judge Dredd will terminate those responsible. I've seen him run kidnapping investigations, direct SWAT teams, they'll track down some suspect and they'll have like 40 guys in body armor and machine guns standing around outside, but then the big fucking glow-in-the-dark Hummer shows up and they're all "whoa, back up guys" and he kicks down the fucking door and takes out like 15 motherfucking KGB ninjas with flamethrowers or some shit.

      Fuck, you hire some guy to keep track of which blood spatters belong to who, and all of a sudden he's taken over the entire Florida legal system. You ever see any trials in this show? For all we know he just takes these fuckers out back and buries them in the motherfucking parking lot. It's not like he couldn't get away with it, he apparently got some kind of extra-legal status where he immediately just takes over command in any situation he wanders into.
  • My rating (Score:4, Funny)

    by yamcha666 ( 519244 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:44PM (#10846573)
    Um, I don't watch it. Futurama is my standard for geek shows.
  • by mphase ( 644838 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:44PM (#10846578) Homepage
    Yes. No. Maybe. I stand behind my answer..s.
  • by fireduck ( 197000 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:45PM (#10846581)
    watching a CSI episode you notice the box of Diamond Evolution One gloves on the bench and think "good choice, those are my favorites, as well..."

    I love the CSI, although I came to in way late. Nice thing is that Spike TV shows 2 reruns back to back at 7 each night.
    • Ahhh, but you have quickly forogtten Marg Helgenberger!

      She's Helgenbooty-licious! []
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I agree wholeheartedly, those are indeed the best gloves. But when David Caruso strokes his face while wearing them, I cringe. I was trained in a Human Genetics lab, which means any contamination was a major headache, and we used nasty chemicals all the time. So he was either contaminating evidence, or giving himself cancer.
    • by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:53PM (#10847524)
      I personally like CSI, though I only catch it once in a while. As an analytical chemist, I can often tell whether the forensic science is legit on CSI or a similar show, and while CSI is far from being completely realistic, I usually cut it slack because the errors tend to be matters of degree rather than utter fabrications. I mean, they could have just written a magical "crimeputer" into the show where evidence goes in one end and the name of the guilty party prints out at the other. Instead, they do make an effort to get science right, but with the caveat that sometimes the science must be squeezed into the storytelling. For shows like CSI, but also for detective shows in general, the case needs to be wrapped up within an episode (or 2 for the big To Be Continued... episodes popular around sweeps). So just as a show like "Law and Order" usually fast forwards through the more mundane legal proceedings in order to get to the dramatic clinching testimony and verdict, CSI makes complicated assays take minutes instead of hours or days so they can hurry to the point where the investigators march up to the suspect with infallible evidence in hand. It's marketed as entertainment, I can understand that- if anything, I think the science can serve as a starting point for viewers, who after the show just might google for some technique they saw and actually learn something.

      They at least talk about doing real things like Western blots and mass spec- once while flipping channels I caught a minute of Navy NCIS where someone mentioned doing an ELISA. In particular, these shows tend to do a nice job of explaining the principles behind a test while they perform it- occasionally I learn new things, though occasionally there will be something explained where I'm thinking, "um, it's not exactly how you say,"- I'm sure the same is true for medical professionals who watch "ER," cops who watch "NYPD Blue," etc. Now, once again, I say that as a chemist- people in other fields may have more of an issue with how their work is represented on such shows- for one, I'm sure that as is usual for television, the capabilities and use of computers are misrepresented. What personally bugs me more than the science itself on CSI and its ilk is the budget that these crime labs seem to have. If anything, these shows might give people the idea that forensics labs have infinite time, money, and resources to ensure justice is done in each and every case.

      It'd be nice, though, if once in a while they'd use a couple of minutes at the end of the show to mention real forensics and the shortcuts they took during the episode- and possibly mention that in reality, sometimes the results are inconclusive, even if everyone did their jobs right.

      Oh, and second the parent- Diamond Evolution One are some nice gloves- though I prefer the MicroGrip purple nitriles myself.

  • by FusionJunky ( 205375 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:45PM (#10846583) Homepage
    Television influencing people into having twisted world-views!? Never!
  • by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:45PM (#10846586) Journal
    Does anyone else *love* infinite resolution? I want a 320x200 security camera that can zoom in on someone's drivers license from 200 yards.
    • by sik0fewl ( 561285 ) <.xxdigitalhellxx. .at.> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:17PM (#10847050) Homepage

      Indeed. I'd really like to get a hold of the filter that lets them turn 6 pixels into a licence plate. Do you think it would be available for The GIMP?

      • by Shazow ( 263582 )
        Wouldn't you say it's plausible in many situations that the image they're looking at is originally scanned at a much higher resolution, but when they "zoom in" they're actually zooming in more into its original size?

        I mean, practically all image viewers open images that are too big for the screen in a resized mode.

        Surely some of their "extrapolations" aren't realistic but I think a good amount of them can be reasonably explained.

        Regardless, it's a very fun show. :-)

        - shazow
      • by Anonymous Coward
        ACtually, you'd be surprised at how much you can recover with video footage. Six pixels isn't much, but if it's the image is pixelised slightly differently every frame (say the car is moving...), then, with sufficiently advanced (nearly magic...) _video_ processing filters, one can recover a license plate from a video stream where in any single frame the license plate is only a few pixels...

        You can try it yourself, with your brain as the sufficiently advanced filter: find a tiny pixelated video of a moving
    • by Don Sample ( 57699 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:12PM (#10847735) Homepage
      It's sad when Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a better grasp of reality:
      In the episode The Prom they're watching a tape of a demon attack:
      CORDELIA: Look! Right there. Zoom in on that.

      XANDER: Zoom in? this is a video tape.
      CORDELIA: So? They do it on TV all the time.
  • I enjoy it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ssand ( 702570 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:45PM (#10846587)
    I enjoy the show, although they all seem to follow the same recipe, that is everyone denies everything untill they have a minute info, then they give in a little, then spill the beans at the end of the show.

    As for forensic in a jury, What a juror must understand is more about it, and truths from the popular show. Jurors are human too, so they will relate, or be swayed by personal oppinions, like strong family bonds, or a strong bond to their children.
  • by Lovedumplingx ( 245300 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:45PM (#10846589)
    I think the show is good for science, but as you stated can be bad for the judiciary system. Is it ever a bad thing to have the populice become enamored with knowledge?

    Your concerns about the judiciary system are warrented though but I wonder if that will ever be too big of an issue that we have to deal with.
  • by yorkpaddy ( 830859 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:46PM (#10846593)
    Its good to have the public have some knowledge of forensics. The OJ jury didn't believe overwelming forensics and set him free. Juries should also be smart enough to know hen to believe eyewitness accounts. oops, hoping for to much, why should I expect juries to be smart
    • by nfras ( 313241 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:05PM (#10846879)
      Actually, the OJ Simpson case is a good example of when the jury used forensic evidence properly. The jury was presented with lots of DNA evidence, blood stains, foot prints etc. When Mark Furman was asked if he planted evidence, he pleaded the fifth amendment. All forensic evidence is therefore suspect and cannot be given any weight. No matter whether you think he did it or not, the jury had no option but to acquit.
      CSI is a good show, but it's just that, a show. The photographic close ups are the best. I remember one where they had a photo of a girl, there was a blur in her eye which they managed to extrapolate into a picture of her killer, pin sharp. It just not feasible.
      I also love the nice sharp finger prints they take off wood, no hint of wood grain.
      A bit more realism would be nice.
      • by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:32PM (#10847919)
        Bah, who wants more realism in TV and movies?

        I want more movie magic in real life!

        I dream of a glorious future where there is absolutely no difference in the quality of image you can get from a 320x200 cell phone camera and a $bignum 10-megapixel digital camera.

        We could use the same technology to implement amazing lossless compression. 3kb files will store HD-quality images! Entire albums will fly across the P2P networks, tucked away in files that wouldn't come close to filling a 5.25" floppy disk, but sound even better than the original master recordings! Nerds will get dotcodes containing DVD-quality movies tattooed into their skulls in protest of the DVD CCA!

        Ah yes, the future is glorious indeed!
      • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:56PM (#10848157)
        Damn, I thought they acquited him because Chewbacca lived on Endor....
    • by Reverberant ( 303566 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:06PM (#10846889) Homepage
      The OJ jury didn't believe overwelming forensics and set him free.

      In the OJ case, it wasn't about believing the forensics, it was about believing whether or not the forensics were tampered with. It's not like the LAPD (at the time) was the most honest of police forces.

    • by drmerope ( 771119 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:27PM (#10847171)
      Before you get too enthused about forensic science. You should read and understand the prosecutors fallacy [].
  • Overall, it's good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:46PM (#10846596)
    Sure, there is a lot of junk science, but I think anything that stimulates interest in the justice system, and that helps to reduce the stigma surrounding jury duty, should help to grow the pool of willing potential jurors. Otherwise, the only people you get on juries are the ones too stupid to figure out a good excuse to get out of jury duty.

    For years, jury duty has been seen as a nuisance to get out of however possible. Now, there is a real trend toward seeing jury duty as your civic responsibility, and taking it seriously, and even getting excited about it. I think overall this is good for the criminal justice system.
    • by schwep ( 173358 )
      If nothing else, it at least makes people that would have been otherwise unaware of some aspects of science aware of it.

      One shortcoming (other than "infinite resolution") is that they rarely have a case where there isn't a clear offender or group of offenders - so people aren't used to the more "muddied" reality of the world we live in. That said, no clear offender reduces the enjoyment of watching a bit.
  • by mekkab ( 133181 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:47PM (#10846604) Homepage Journal
    1) anything that promotes interest in science (no matter how glamourized and unrealistic) is a boon.

    2) Jury instruction should be enough of a factor. Also, your reliance on the veracity of eye witness testimony [] is amusing, considering how unreliable IT is.
  • by Asprin ( 545477 ) <gsarnold@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:47PM (#10846613) Homepage Journal

    I watched ten minutes of an episode of CSI before I had to switch the channel because I started to get a craving for pork rinds. I HATE PORK RINDS! Seriously, if you want to see forensics investigators at work, CourtTV, The Science Channel, Discovery and TLC have a number of shows that can tickle your itch and won't treat you like a complete doofus.

    Network TV - you can always count on us..... TO SCREW IT UP!
  • Full of bad science (Score:5, Informative)

    by crow ( 16139 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:48PM (#10846626) Homepage Journal
    They get the science and technology wrong as often as right. It seems like every other episode where they enhance three pixels of an image to get a recognizable face in a reflection. Or there was the CSI:Miami where they got a saved email off of the wireless router that the person had connected through. At least when they got image data out of the NTSC overscan, they were using a real concept, even if the amount of overscan they recovered was vastly exaggerated.
    • They get the science and technology wrong as often as right. It seems like every other episode where they enhance three pixels of an image to get a recognizable face in a reflection. Or there was the CSI:Miami where they got a saved email off of the wireless router that the person had connected through. At least when they got image data out of the NTSC overscan, they were using a real concept, even if the amount of overscan they recovered was vastly exaggerated.

      I don't notice too much that's way out in le
    • by javaxman ( 705658 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:33PM (#10847255) Journal
      I know a couple of people who are really into forensics. Honest, I swear, it's not me, it's just the crowd I hang out with. They do stuff like take classes in forensics, just for fun, even though they aren't part of any degree program. Total sickos. I love 'em, and would find the stuff just as interesting if I didn't have some strange aversion to dead bodies.

      Anyway, my friends took a lecture series on forensics, and came back after every session talking about how much time each guest speaker put into informing the class of just how wrong CSI is about so very many very basic, important things.

      The science on the show is junk. Almost nothing is right- it's wrong way more often than right.

      Just one blatant example? It's apparently really, really, really, really difficult to estimate time of death from a body alone. On these shows, they pretend to be able to estimate TOD very accurately. It's a joke, except that it sets up people to expect a real-life forensics expert to do things they can't possibly do.

      So, in the final analysis, it's a double-edged sword, but it's more bad than good, just because it spreads soooo much disinformation, without enough warning that "the science in this show is fake, fake, fake; you won't learn anything true; don't believe a thing you see here, this is written by a TV show hack without review for technical validity of any kind". Really, it should have that kind of warning, the science to these shows is so far off.

  • This is Slashdot (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deft ( 253558 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:49PM (#10846641) Homepage
    A population that loves Sci-Fi that includes a solution for everything byr eversing polarities.

    My buddy is a prop guy on CSI. For the most part the stuff they use is real, and he is trained on it... and then David Caruso is told how to use it by him.

    We can't start worrying about a little creative license when trying to tell a story... the point is made that smart can be exciting, even sexy without having to worry about following the instruction manual to the T.

    Kids will be inspired to learn about these things, investigate, solve puzzles either way.
  • by RomSteady ( 533144 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:50PM (#10846651) Homepage Journal
    Forensic evidence is one of the most powerful tools available to law enforcement because it is relatively irrefutable.

    While things may not work like they do in "CSI" in real life, the sway towards the forensic can only help ensure that the proper people get sent to jail.

    The popularity may also help increase funding for CSI departments nationwide. Most CSI departments are woefully underfunded and undermanned.

    Besides, just imagine if they had been able to get O.J.'s DNA or fingerprints off of the inside of those gloves...
  • CSI isn't bad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by siskbc ( 598067 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:50PM (#10846656) Homepage
    As a chemist who's had a little forensics training, the science is not bad.

    As for the submitter's question, eyewitness accounts are usually the absolute worst forms of evidence. It's especially bad when the witness doesn't actually know the defendant.

    And I would say relevations regarding the liberties taken by cops with the Bill of Rights and Miranda have shaken faith in confessions more than shows like CSI have.

    I'd say that having juries full of self-styled experts based on TV knowledge ain't great. But it's better than it was in the 90's, when you could snow over a jury with science evidence debate they don't understand. Used to be an easy way to get reasonable doubt.

    All in all, I don't think education is a bad thing, and as I said CSI doesn't do a bad job. As long as the juries don't think they're experts, it should be OK.

  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:50PM (#10846660) Homepage Journal
    ... but they overglamourize the job. The CSI people don't do the detective work... they do the crime scene work.

    For an even worse example of something similar, look at the show "Crossing Jordan" where a medical examiner is doing detective work (umm... your job is looking at and studying corpses).

    Maybe if the show had a detective, an ADA, and dedicated most of its time with the CSI team and showed how they interact with the other two, it would work better... think "Law & Order" with just a focus on CSI...

    Actually, Navy NCIS does a good job. Good combo of detective work and their medical examiner and CSI are both big parts of the show. Very nerdy aspects... not a lot of junk science.
  • by Life2Short ( 593815 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:51PM (#10846666)
    As a faculty member at a small college, I cannot believe how many prospective and first year students approach me and tell me they are interested in forensic psychology, criminal profiling, etc.. How many of these jobs are actually out there? Aren't there only a few criminal profilers in the entire FBI? Is there any reason to expect that the number of job opportunities in this area are going to increase in the coming years? Fortunately college-level chemistry courses have a way of weeding out students quite quickly... If I had a penny for every poor pre-med student who took organic chemistry and then showed up in my office to ask me about psychology as a possible major... Heck, the only reason I went into Psychlogy was because of the old Bob Newhart show. I thought it would be great to be married to Suzanne Pleshette and live in downtown Chicago...
    • Is there any reason to expect that the number of job opportunities in this area are going to increase in the coming years?

      I imagine this would depend on whether the crime rate is rising or falling. Good luck getting a consistent answer to that. Every study will measure it differently, and the results will be used/reported depending on the answers wanted by whomever is quoting them.
    • I took a class in forensic anthropology one summer as an elective. The professor had a Master's degree from the University of TN, and was the forensic anthropologist for a huge swath of western NY (at least a few million in population, not to mention lots of lakes a forests for things to be found in). Her day job was as a pathologist's assistant, because she only worked as a forensic anthropologist a few days a month when there was something to be done. Sure there were several full-time so called CSI's but
  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:52PM (#10846677) Homepage Journal
    If the net effect of CSI is more students taking science courses, then I say "go CSI!" I've never even watched the show, but this country desperately needs young scientists. This reminds me of the effect "Top Gun" had on Air Force (yes, Air Force) recruitment.

    As for prosecutors worrying about CSI making juries expect TV-like evidence, the judge sets the jury's expectations. In general, juries in the United States are seriously flawed due to the exemptions provided to most educated professionals. The bigger picture issues are more important than whether jurors are expecting to see CSI-style evidence.

  • Scary Inacuracies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bay43270 ( 267213 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:54PM (#10846707) Homepage
    When I do notice huge technical issues (not the little ones like instant DNA and computerized fingerprint/palmprint searches), it makes me wonder how many people believe this stuff. Even worse, it makes me wonder what I've picked up from shows in other subjects and assumed to be based on fact. I catch things on CSI, but I don't know enough about medicine or law to know what's made up. How much of my perception of law is completely fictional?

    Just for fun, here are a couple of my favorite CSI science facts:
    - NTSC overscans allow you to see footage that takes place 30% outside the normal video
    - If you zoom in on a photo of a person, you can find a reflection in their eye. Zoom in on the reflection, and you can see facial features on the people standing behind the photographer.
  • Only One Good CSI (Score:5, Informative)

    by BRock97 ( 17460 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:54PM (#10846712) Homepage
    The original CSI is my favorite, as I can't stand David Caruso from the Miami show, and CSI: NY it too new to form an opinion (which is slipping to dislike right now). My one wish is that they would do more theft type episodes and move away from all murder. Case in point was an episode last season that involved the theft of some priceless antiques. Awesome episode. Not a drop of blood, but the process of how the determined who was the thief was fascinating.

    That said, the CSI craze has caused an outbreak of stupidity. Recently, a friend received a stolen check where she works. Since she is the general manager of the store, she had to go to the bank and work out the details. The bank teller (besides being an ass) made the comment that my friend shouldn't "touch the check too often as they might get her fingerprints" and she would get in trouble. Honest truth, those were the bank teller's words. My friend responded with "CSI fan, eh?"

    I have another friend that can't stand the show on the grounds of how unrealistic it portraits criminal investigation. Being he was a prosecutor for numerous years, his main beef is that the CSI officers are never involved with the interrogation of the suspects and that the usually hand over their evidence to the investigating office. He then does all the foot work. He also says that the CSI folks don't carry firearms, but he concedes that might vary from office to office. He really dislikes the Miami show since the Caruso character is ordering police officers around all the time, which he says never happens.

    There you go, the $0.02 from some guy off the street.
    • Death Investigators (Score:3, Informative)

      by sjbe ( 173966 )
      I have another friend that can't stand the show on the grounds of how unrealistic it portraits criminal investigation. Being he was a prosecutor for numerous years, his main beef is that the CSI officers are never involved with the interrogation of the suspects and that the usually hand over their evidence to the investigating office. He then does all the foot work. He also says that the CSI folks don't carry firearms, but he concedes that might vary from office to office. He really dislikes the Miami show
    • Anyone else notice that all the outside scenes in the Miami offshoot are seen through a slightly orangeish filter, and the New York ones pass through a light bluish one?
      • I think I read about that in an article on CSI:Miami. It's just color psychology. Most people don't consciously notice the color cast, they just think the reddish place is getting more direct sunlight and is thus hotter (Miami) and the bluish place is getting more overcast/shade type light, thus colder weather (New York). It gives each show a different "feel". Same thing happens in the photography field. Look up color balance, color psychology and white balance.

        You probably don't realize it but a lot of th
  • by ibpooks ( 127372 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:55PM (#10846729) Homepage
    I prefer the "real" forensic science shows on Discovery, TLC, and A&E. They tend to focus more on the hard work and real science involved in the forensic process than in the neat-hour-long drama. These shows usually have interviews with the actual detectives and scientists who work cases which I find interesting. CSI is boring; heavy on the drama, light on the science.
  • We can only hope. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by isaac ( 2852 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:56PM (#10846747)
    ...prosecutors throughout the country now worry about juries that refuse to accept eyewitness accounts or even outright confessions...

    We can only hope. A key lesson I took away from law school is that the unreliability of eyewitness testimony and the relatively high rate of coerced and/or false confessions present huge problems to the fair administration of criminal justice. Most of the cases of people exonerated by DNA evidence after serving years in prison were originally put away on faulty eyewitness testimony or coerced confessions.

    Of course prosecutors don't like forensic technology! Their job isn't to be fair, it's to convict at all costs. (Doesn't matter if it's the wrong person, as long as *someone* was convicted of the crime.)


  • by The I Shing ( 700142 ) * on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:56PM (#10846748) Journal
    Back in May of this year, NPR did a story on the popularity of CSI [], and how the show compares to the way investigations are carried out in reality. The differences are pretty stark, but the excuse is that reality doesn't make for a gripping crime drama.
  • Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by saddino ( 183491 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @05:58PM (#10846791)
    worry about juries that refuse to accept eyewitness accounts

    Eyewitness accounts are notoriously innacurate and misleading. A number of studies [] have found that people who witness criminal situations (and hence are under stress) cannot remember (and can even "invent" specifics about) the incidents.

    or even outright confessions,

    Confessions are also not reliable. Once again, under stress, an individual can be suggested to confess to thing he or she has not done (which is why you should take advantage of your rights and stay silent until your lawyer is present). A number of the cases that have recently been overturned by DNA evidence involved confessions. Yet years later we can prove these people are innocent.

    If these CSI-educated juries are prone to be more cautious in making decisions about guilt, then IMO it's probably a good thing.
  • by hubie ( 108345 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:07PM (#10846905)
    I don't watch the show much, but one snippet I caught involved someone who fell out of a window (was it murder? was it suicide? hmmmm..). A couple of the CSI guys were talking about the fall and one wondered how long it took for the body to hit the ground. The other says, "Well, considering that terminal velocity is 9.8 meters per second per second, it took about three seconds."

    When you hear something like that, how am I supposed to buy into the biochem stuff (an area I am not too familiar with) they toss around?

  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:12PM (#10846972) Journal
    I don't know if these "realistic" crime shows are inspiring budding young scientists, but it sure is educational for non-stupid criminals (and although there are few of those percentage-wise, it is a large absolute number).

    I sure have cleaned up my evidence-leaving ways, seeing all the good tips on these reality shows.

    Heck, if the witness-relocation program didn't keep moving me about, I'd be caught by now, for sure!

  • Criminals (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bar-agent ( 698856 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:14PM (#10846994)
    I am actually more interested in how many criminals are getting way better at hiding their tracks, like the woman in the article.

    Like most Slashdotters, I read a lot of fiction and watch a lot of movies. There is so much out there about how to do a crime, do it right, and do it without a trace, that I really wish law-enforcement agencies the best of luck--because they desperately need the best of luck.
  • by suso ( 153703 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:19PM (#10847073) Homepage Journal
    That can't be good for science.

    That can't be good for anybody.
  • ONE WORD: (Score:4, Funny)

    by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:24PM (#10847140) Homepage

  • Planted Evidence? (Score:3, Informative)

    by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:29PM (#10847195) Journal
    You have to be very careful with the context of forensic evidence. I recently watched a show called "masterminds" where a jewel thief in Raleigh made a point of deliberately leaving behind tiny snippets of other people's hair, blood and skin, and tromping around the crime scene in huge boots leaving footprints that were 3 sizes too big, in order to throw off investigators. He was only caught when his fence tried to hawk part of the loot on EBay.

    The interpretation of results can be highly subjective. There was a famous case a few years back in Canada where a well known doctor accused of rape willingly drew his own blood sample for investigators, which came up negative. They were sure he was guilty, but couldn't figure out how he had faked the blood test, as they had seen him draw the blood sammple from his arm right in front of them. As it turns out, he later confessed that he had inserted a sealed, plastic surgical tube into his arm from a small (unseen) incision further up his forearm ahead of time that contained a sample of somebody else's blood.
  • CSI (Score:5, Funny)

    by Koatdus ( 8206 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:50PM (#10847479)
    Most TV show that suck. CSI sucks too. It is good for a chuckle if you really, really have nothing else to do and are too tired to go play on the internet.

    I always get a good laugh out of the magic scanner machine. They rinse a q-tip into a little test tube, put the test tube into a rack, the rack gets roboticaly loaded into a machine, there is a couple of seconds of the sound of a dot matrix printer, and the "tech" says in a serious voice, "It's a piece of rubber from the tire of a 1989 green chevy pickup truck! There were only 1000 of this model produced of which only 17 are still on the road and only one is registered in this state. The owner is the suspects sister!"

    At this point they confront the sister who admits that she really was in town after all and she did cut up the body, disolve it in lye, grid up the bones and throw the dust in the Atlantic, "but he was already dead."

    Since one of the teeth didn't get ground up all the way they are able to put the tooth back into the magic scanner (cue more dot matrix printer sounds) and show he really died of poisoning on tuesday when the sister said that she saw him alive on wednesday.

    They then connect to a national database that tracks the cash purchases of everyone in the country for the last 10 years (here we are treated to the sound of a 9600baud modem, dee,doo,deeeeeeeeee,doooo,dooooooooo!) to show that last August she bought some rat poison when she was in Chicago for a business trip and had an affair with the dead guy.

    They confront her again and this time she admits she did it. We get about 20 seconds of the main character finally on a date with the cute scientist from out of town when his pager goes off (no nooky for you) and its time to watch an ad for a new cure for erectile disfunction ( when a quiet time becomes the right time) .
  • Pipetting (Score:5, Funny)

    by dexter riley ( 556126 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:50PM (#10847482)
    I love when they take a pipettor, dip into a large beaker of solution left open on their benchtops and pull back a half-full tip with air bubbles in it, with big droplets hanging off the side, then squirt some of it into an unlabeled test tube. The show is great, but as a biologist, I cringe every time they do that.

    Also, if you ever see a M.E. kneeling over my corpse, touching my hair and saying "oh, poor baby, who did this to you?" you have my permission to slap her! Or as David Caruso would say, "You have my permission...[dramatically puts sunglasses on] slap her."
  • by erik_fredricks ( 446470 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @06:59PM (#10847593)
    I used to work in a really horrid section of Atlanta, and luckily, the local police were regular fixtures there. One night, I was talking to two officers when an older woman approached them, in near-hysterics, shrieking about how someone had broken the window to her house.

    They told her they'd take a report, but that there was no way to fingerprint glass that had been shattered into very tiny pieces, so the chances of capturing the bad guy were minimal.

    She then started screaming about a footprint that she found on the ground below the window and how she, "watches that CSI show" and knows that "they can make a plaster cast of the footprint" and whatnot. By the time she mentioned collecting DNA evidence, they were clearly getting bugged.

    Thing is, cops are getting this ALL THE TIME. Everybody, no matter how small the infraction, wants a forensics van and a crack team of government scientists to bring out the big machinery.

    More proof that television is rotting our brains.
  • by adolfojp ( 730818 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:13PM (#10847750)
    ... it is just a TV show. It is an idealized version of reality. It is not meant to be a literal translation of forensic science. Not all forensic scientists are great looking, not all cases are solved... much less in a couple of days.

    If you judge these kind of shows with extreme severity you can also rule out ER, Law and Order and almost anything else. CSI IS NOT A DOCUMENTARY!

    These facts don't take away from the fact that it is a great show, with great writers and great actors. They manage to make it fresh everytime and the caracters are very well developed and motivate great empatic responses in the audience.

    McGuyver wasn't science fact or reality based either, but we ate it up every week.

  • Of course it is. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by back_pages ( 600753 ) <<ten.xoc> <ta> <segap_kcab>> on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:17PM (#10847779) Journal
    And WWE is good for athletics.

    And TV shows about doctors convince kids to stay in school.

    And TV shows about violence convince kids to stay out of trouble.

    And COPS inspires the right people to join law enforcement.

    And sex on TV is good for healthy population growth.

    And American Media made me the genuine, sincere person I am today.

  • by Kethryvis ( 96137 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:19PM (#10847806)
    I actually am taking a class in Forensic Anthropology this quarter (from a Board Certified Forensic Anthropologist even) and I have to say, while I knew a lot of the stuff on CSI et al was crap, I'm almost getting to the point where I can't watch them anymore. The very first thing my prof told us on the very first day is WE DO NOT SOLVE CASES. It was in huge caps on her slide. As forensic investigators, we gather evidence and provide it to the police. THEY solve the case. For instance, in class we have an assignment where we are given parts of a skeleton and we must analyze them and put our findings in a case report just like our prof would write for her cases. On a rib, I noticed a fracture. My job is to document the fracture, say whether it is ante-, pere- or post- mortum and what kind of injury it is consistant with. It is NOT my job to say that the guy was punched in the ribs by the assalant 'cause he wanted the guy's wife or whatever. My job is to say that I have observed a peremotrum fracture of the left fourth/fifth rib which is consistant with blunt force trauma and then explain why (the pattern of fracture, etc). It bothers me to see these forensic investigators getting all Dragnet everywhere.

    My prof actually discourages people from going into forensic sciences because really there aren't that many jobs. And she would know! Yes she's a well known forensic anthropologist working on some high profile cases (including the Peterson case) but she also teaches at a university. Doing case work is not her total bread and butter.

    I'll also say that a lot of the people in my class are very influenced by the CSI shows and think that forensic work is all computers and microscopes and pretty things. They don't realize they have to deal with dead and bloated bodies, gunshot trauma, and other things that you shouldn't be seeing in slides at 9:30 in the morning (this morning it was maggots. Needless to say, I didn't have anything with rice for lunch). I don't think CSI will have the dalmation effect for forensic sciences (ie, people saw 101 Dalmations and went out and bought dalmation puppies because they were OH SO CUTE.. only to realize that they couldn't deal with the breed and gave the dogs away), but I will say I have to deal with a lot of tarts in my classes who I'd rather kick to the curb since they just want to wear tight little tshirts look pretty like they do on CSI.
  • CSI? MEH. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by payndz ( 589033 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2004 @07:21PM (#10847829)
    I've watched a few episodes (I know people who are obsessive about it) but never got into it. Maybe it's the level of technology that puts me off. Whenever I've seen it, the cops seem to be using miraculous sci-fi 'whatever hardware' that would put Jack Bauer and CTU to shame - and they're out saving the world, not merely catching some low-rent murderer or safecracker!

    But then, I never got into Alias either, so I may not have typical Slashdot tastes. Jennifer Garner's just too hard-faced and bony for my liking...

The best defense against logic is ignorance.