Many people working in science and engineering grew up watching Star Trek, and credit the show with inspiring them in their future careers. Will the long-running CSI franchise lead to an increase in real-life forensics investigators?

That would certainly be helpful. As recently as 2002, studies found that on average each forensics lab in the country had a backlog of between 300 and 400 cases, a situation that only having more people working in the labs will help to remedy.

And it looks like that’s happening. Since CSI first went on the air in 2000, more and more colleges have offered forensic science programs, to the delight of students hoping to become a real-life Nick Stokes or Sara Sidle.

But are those students hoping to become real Crime Scene Investigators in for a surprise when they get out into the real world? Real life forensics work is not anywhere near as glamorous as CSI depicts it. The people don’t look like television actors, the lab tests really take a lot longer than a few seconds, and like a lot of jobs, it’s really quite tedious and includes a lot of paperwork. Unlike many, it also contains a lot of disgusting dead bodies and maggots. (You may see them on TV, but you can’t smell them.)

As well, real-life investigators don’t really wear as many hats as you’d think from watching their fictional counterparts on TV. Most people working in the field are specialists in one area like blood tests or fingerprints.

Elaina Parman, an assistant crime scene director in Missouri, said that while CSI and its spinoffs are okay as entertainment, they are “not a true depiction of the position involved. It’s not humanly possible.”

Max Houck, director of Forensic Science Initiative at West Virginia University, says the show’s popularity is affecting real crime scene investigations, and not necessarily in a good way, as police now tend to collect far more evidence than is actually needed, and frequently order too many expensive tests. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys also demand CSI-like precision from their experts, which is known as “the CSI effect.”

“This TV show comes on and everyone starts watching it – including the cops and prosecutors – and submissions to forensic laboratories go through the roof,” said Houck.

Overall, though, has CSI hurt or helped the forensics field? Helped, say most experts. The increase in interest in the programs at colleges and universities helps to bring in more funding and train more future investigators, and that’s exactly what the backlogged labs need.

-Mel, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

Sources: US Department of Justice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Examiner.Net
Photo courtesy of CBS


Staff Columnist, BuddyTV