4 More Reasons Why TV Crime Shows are Patently Absurd

It’s not like the movies (or television, of course). As far as popular forensic science-themed media has gone to create an awareness of scientific issues amongst the public, there are certainly limits to its usefulness. It’s glaringly obvious that forensic science is dramatised to increase viewership (and who can blame them?) but what’s worrying is that what it disseminates actually becomes the basis for real criminal trials.

On the flip side, numerous studies have shown that people who watch TV shows like CSI and Law & Order aren’t significantly more likely to convict on the basis of forensic evidence. Still, we think it’s important to continue this series — if only to give our readers a handbook from which to view their favourite shows. If you’ve missed the previous post (and the first six reasons, you probably want to flip back to that one here).


7. The fallacy of the “quick turnaround.” 

TV shows have the remarkable power to instill in us the belief that all forensic issues can be turned around within a 60-minute episode. Not true. Real life police inform us that a fast-tracked set of footwear impressions and shoes seized for comparison usually take at least 48 hours to be processed. DNA for serious crimes can be done in a day. Less serious DNA evidence can take between four to six weeks. And as for requesting medical evidence from hospitals? Prepare for an eight week wait. Real life moves substantially slower than TV.


8. Unrealistic science. 

Whilst TV shows are brilliant for increasing the public’s awareness of forensic issues (which is what we’re all about, after all), they may lead to creating unrealistic expectations. TV may bend the truth of what is and isn’t possible for drama’s sake; the same cannot be said in real life. Jurors have previously been heard to remark that “[they] didn’t even dust the lawn for fingerprints”, when clearly, this wouldn’t even be possible.


9. Cops and corpses. 

Police officers go out and arrest, investigate and interview. Forensic officers manage the crime scene, the corpses and any additional scientific matters. The two lines rarely blur. CSI and shows of its ilk often portray forensic officers as busting down doors, making arrests and also dealing with the crime scene in and amongst their other work. This wouldn’t, and doesn’t happen for a number of reasons: it would be too expensive and time consuming; the forensic officers wouldn’t be honing their niche skills; and there would be a significant risk of cross-contamination of crime scenes. Such a scenario is, again, absurd.


10. The CSI effect.

This is the most important for us. Academics have given this name to the effect to which jurors are influenced by crime scene shows. Although a debate exists to the extent it actually affects convictions at court; one thing is  clear: TV crime shows have created it, it is absurd, and means that forensic evidence at court requires more detailed presentation and explanation than it ever did previously.


Your Turn: Think we’ve missed something important? Don’t think CSI does as much harm as we say it does? Add your voice to this conversation — it’s incomplete without you.




  • Mint says:

    Just finished reading the CSI series. I think you hit the nail on the head.

  • Komsan says:

    You could also add that in such crime shows the police go around arresting and searching people without warrants. When they do happen to obtain a warrant in the show its usually just a phone call away which is also highly unrealistic. Another thing is that the police and investigators in these shows are portrayed as highly intelligent people, while in reality most law enforcement officers are of average or less than average intelligence as it really doesn’t take much to get into that field.

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