3 Real-Life Scientists Way Cooler Than Their TV Counterparts

Every week, we invite some of our favorite characters into our homes.  These people are attractive, clever and live interesting lives. We watch with fascination as they use their science, their wits and their team to solve – within an hour – complicated crimes and put away bad guys. We love being with these friends. Horrors if we stop to think that our ‘good friends’ may be flawed.

But they are paid to fool us. The clever banter is written by a team of smart people we never see. The clothes – costumes ‘designed’ by costumers. Cool vehicles? Provided by sponsors who want to promote their shiny new automobiles. In fact, not much is real with our heroes. So would it surprise you to discover that their procedures and policies are suspect as well?


Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan vs Sue Black: forensic anthropologists

Like her quirkiness or not, “Bones” Brennan is a fascinating woman. Head of a lab in the fictional Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, DC, her relationship with FBI agent Steely Booth grew from frictional to affectionate and resulted in a baby and a marriage — all while solving the most complicated homicides possible.

But  Sue Black is the real hero. She began her career in forensic anthropology in 1987 as a lecturer at St. Thomas Hospital in London, and her career path resulted in a posting as Head of the Centre for Anatomy and Human identification at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Along the way, she became the lead forensic anthropologist for the British Forensic Team in Kosovo, deployed by the UN and was able to bring peace of mind to thousands of survivors who – up until then, did not know the fate of their friends and family members. She earned the 2008 Lucy Medal for that work along with other awards and, in a case of life imitating art, has also been featured on TV with the BBC.


Dexter Morgan vs Dr. Henry Lee: blood spatter specialists

Dexter Morgan is billed as everyone’s favorite serial killer.  He is charming, constantly struggling with his ‘dark passenger’ and takes bad guys out of circulation. He is a great father and, until the final episode, a trusted brother. He is a gifted scientist and researcher, a valued member of the fictional Miami-Metro Police Force, and a respected team member. What’s not to like?  Oh, yeah. He’s a murderer. But a murderer with a code.

Dr. Henry Chang-Yu Lee is also a blood spatter expert.  He also has a syndicated TV show; ‘Trace Evidence: the Case Files of Dr. Henry Lee’ on TruTV network and often appears on the Taiwanese talk show KangXi Lai Le to discuss his cases and engage in comedic banter. He has worked on famous cases; the JonBenét Ramsey murder, the Helle Crafts woodchipper murder, the O.J. Simpson and Laci Peterson cases, the post 9/11 forensic investigation, the Washington DC sniper shootings and the 3-19 shooting incident of R.O.C. President Chen Shuibian. None of his subjects ended up wrapped in plastic on a kill table, however.

Today, Dr. Lee is the Chief Emeritus for Scientific Services for the State of Connecticut.


Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard vs Dr. Cyril Wecht: forensic pathologists

NCIS has a quirky forensic pathologist who is worldly, elegant and has an endless supply of stories.  Ducky mentors his assistants and is a confidant to Gibbs, the team leader. Played by David McCallum, he became an expert in forensic science to play this role, even attending Medical Examiner conventions. He was even considered for a technical advisor role for the NCIS TV show. Ducky has crossed paths with his mentor, Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Dr. Wecht  has also had a long and famous career, working on cases such as the Robert Kennedy assassination, the Charles Manson gang murder of Sharon Tate, the Legionnaires Disease panic and more. He has conducted more than 14,000 autopsies. He founded the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University of Law in Pittsburg, has published many books and yes, has appeared on TV.

But the real theater in his life paralleled TV courtroom dramas. In 2008, he was indicted on charges of public corruption.  In an 18 month series of intrigue and reversals, most charges were dropped, juries were deadlocked, charges of political motivation and prosecution misconduct were made, high political officials got involved on both sides, and eventually the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility initiated an investigation into the prosecution itself. On May 14, 2009 the trial judge excluded most evidence as illegally seized and two weeks later, all charges were dismissed. Watch for the movie sure to come out soon. The question is: should Donald Sutherland or David McCallum be tapped to play Dr. Wecht?

Every character on TV is inspired by a real person. And real people are incredibly more interesting than a character — even one realized by a talented actor. Our TV friends only truly ‘live’ one hour a week (not counting commercials) during a TV season.  The more you look into the real world forensic field, you will find inspiring personalities. And for the most part, even actors are enthralled by the heroes who are the ‘real deal’.


Your Turn: Should Donald Sutherland or David McCallum be tapped to play Dr. Wecht? Know a few more real-life forensic scientists that we should have featured here? Absolutely love your TV drama too much to consider these amazing people? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.




  • Lenn Lockwood says:

    There is TV show from Canada called the Artful Detective. It’s about the city of Toronto in the late 1800s. The detective, Murdoch is skilled in types of emerging forensics. His supervisor doesn’t believe in that nonsense. The show strives for factual and historical accuracy.

    • Thanks for the tip, Lenn,

      Ah, yes, the Artful Detective (also known as The Murdoch Mysteries), featuring Yannick Bisson as the wise Detective William Murdoch. This series in in it’s eight season, and many episodes have Mr. Murdoch solving crimes and meeting famous luminaries – politicians (young Winston Churchill), inventors (Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla) Entertainers (Harry Houdini), authors (H.G. Wells, Jack London and Arthur Conan Doyle) and even some chilling criminals (Jack the Ripper). “It’s not what you know, but who you know” as the promotions claim. Of course, some liberties are taken with the time space continuum, but you are correct, in this fictional account, he does ‘invent’ a lot of forensic techniques and procedures. He even inspires Conan Doyle to write sleuthing stories!

      But the liberties with when famous people may have been in Toronto to meet Detective Murdoch, and the technologies supposedly attributed to inspirations by the Artful Detective are usually stretches. According to episode 2, Murdoch gives Tesla the idea for wireless telephones and they actually use one to solve a case. While Nikola Tesla did indeed develop wireless telegraphy and telephony during the time period that he was involved with the Niagara River Project (which this episode is about), the representation of the device and the relationship with the fictional detective stretches the imagination as well as the historical accuracy claims.

      It is on Ovation TV on some cable networks, and is also available on Amazon in streaming video – free to Prime members.

Leave a Reply to Douglas Filter Cancel Reply