06 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Forensics And Finding The Right Evidence

Forensic science, or forensics, is a field you've no doubt heard of. It focuses on the use of science and technology to present evidence in court, and in a lot of fiction forensics is simply presented as your lead detective sending something to the lab and getting back important evidence against a criminal or criminals. However, forensics is complicated and has a lot more depth than just comparing someone's DNA--and they're beginning to find holes in practices that have gone on for decades, including bite mark analysis and even fingerprints.

In addition to physical evidence, with the surge in digital devices in people's lives a new branch of forensics has been added: Computer forensics. This is the analysis of data found on someone's hard drive (and other storage devices) or, in cases of remote attacks, a tracing of information packets that can sometimes be followed along the route of attack; the latter is called "network forensics".


If you live in the USA (because PBS restricts access and their videos aren't playable outside the country, darn it--though you could conceivably download a VPN to circumvent a regional block) and are interested in the field, then I highly recommend watching this NOVA program about forensics. It's fascinating.

**********

Sources:
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/forensics
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/weekinreview/28santos.html
http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12589
http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/40151/computer-forensics
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/forensics-on-trial.html
http://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/forensics.pdf
http://www.newyorkcomputerforensics.com/learn/forensics_process.php

**********

Do you have any favorite examples of forensic science, either fictional or real? Do you think older techniques that are now proving to be less-than-reliable should be completely phased out? Are you in favor of DNA profiling if there's biological evidence it can be extracted from?


-----The Golden Eagle

32 comments:

Elise Fallson said...

Since grad school, I've had a strong interest in Forensic Entomology and find the field fascinating. Had it been an option while getting my MS, I'm pretty sure I would have gone that route.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So fingerprinting may not be accurate? Interesting...

L.G. Smith said...

Those computer forensics have me worried...you know, with all the odd research writers do. "No, officer, I had to look up the methods of poisoning someone for my novel!" :P

Trisha F said...

I remember hearing recently that the profession of forensic anthropology, or whatever Bones does, is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) current ambitions for graduating high school students. ;) Guess that goes to show the power of TV for ya!

Pat Hatt said...

I hope they don't look at some of the things I type in haha and holes you say, hmm that could let the lawyers of criminals have a field day.

mshatch said...

Like many people I am fascinated by the subject, in fact, if I could go back to school I'd love to become a forensic psychologist. And thank you for that link, I bookmarked it to watch later :)

Cindy Dwyer said...

I find the whole field absolutely fascinating, but I could never do it myself!

Adam said...

It's help prevent major crimes nowadays. No longer do we have super serial killers like Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I live in a military town and my husband works on base - let me tell you, it's almost impossible to wipe a computer's memory so clean the military can't retrieve it.

D.G. Hudson said...

Forensics is important in my mystery novel (WIP). It's interesting to know what can be learned from observation and testing.

Don't like the idea of Big Brother watching, but haven't they always done that? (through other mediums?)

C. Lee McKenzie said...

I love a good forensic thriller and I think I've seen every episode of Bones twice. Interesting that this field is gaining in such popularity among students.

Andrew Leon said...

I think, considering how unreliable eyewitness testimony actually is, that we should use every bit of hard data we have when pursuing criminals.

Brinda said...

I would love to study computer forensics.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I don't have a favorite forensics show but I do find it all interesting. Following on what Trisha said, lots of high school students think they want to go into this field. I'm glad the TV shows raises interest in science.

Mark Means said...

I've always found the topic very interesting, but don't really care for the network shows that feature it....like CSI or Bones....

Liz said...

It's always interesting to sub for the forensics classes.

Margo Kelly said...

I think the new technology makes writing fiction challenging, because as a writer, I don't want my stories to feel outdated in five or ten years, but technology moves SO FAST. Things are changing.

Carol said...

I'm a bit of a mystery junky, television and novels, but I'm never quite sure how much of the forensices is stuff is true and how much just makes good tv.

Carol's Notebook

Ava Quinn said...

Great stuff, forensics.

I had an excellent week long unit where students would use forensic science to solve a fictitious mystery. But I never had a group of fourth graders that were quite with it enough to try it out on. (It was closer to a middle school level) Though I'd still like to give it a whirl with the right group of kiddos, even though I'm not currently teaching.

Maria Dunn said...

Very interesting and beautiful blog as well. God bless, Maria at Delight Directed Living

DWei said...

If I ever had anything really suspicious on a harddrive I would find a way to brick it in case anyone other than me tried to access it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi GE .. it's fascinating what is happening - learnt the LA police force are trying to anticipate crime, by data analysis of all previous crimes .. and this is applicable elsewhere in other fields ...

Loving your posts, even if the video doesn't work over here - great references .. thanks for all the links etc ...

Cheers Hilary

Julie Flanders said...

My WIP includes some forensics and I feel totally clueless about the whole thing, so I'm so glad to learn about this video! I'm looking forward to watching it, I think this is such an interesting field anyway. Thanks for sharing! :)

Connie Gruning said...

My daughter is working her way to a degree in Forensic's it's fascinating!
Connie
A to Z buddy
Peanut Butter and Whine

Susan Roebuck said...

I sometimes wonder how many executed people were in fact innocent :-(

Paul Tobin said...

I did not know that the more traditional areas of forensics were being called into question. Interesting post.

Beth said...

Golden, you're on my blog today.

Michael Offutt, S.F.A. said...

I used to like watching Bones because of the stuff they used in the show and the intelligence of Dr. Brennan. But then they killed off Vincent, and I stopped watching.

The Golden Eagle said...

Elise: A career in Forensic Entomology would be an interesting one. I watched a NOVA program about forensics and they had a segment about it--cool stuff!

Alex: Yup. Someone was actually arrested for a terrorist bomb that he never had anything to do with because his fingerprint matched up along certain points.

L.G.: LOL. I had all kinds of military details written down for my first novel--IEDs, tanks, missiles, stuff like that.

Trisha: I want to watch Bones sometime . . . I wonder how accurate the science is.

Pat: Indeed. It's a slippery slope, kind of; techniques are coming into question and new ways of identifying biological evidence are emerging.

Mshatch: You're very welcome! :)

Cindy: I'm not sure I could, either. Though Computer Forensics has some appeal . . .

Adam: Nope. At least none have emerged in recent years!

Diane: I don't doubt it. The military and the government has powerful technology.

D.G.: I guess the debate now is the ability to follow people electronically--social networking has opened a whole new can of worms.

Lee: Well, at least it's a scientific field!

Andrew: Definitely.

Brinda: I would, too. It'd be an interesting field to work through. (And I noticed a pay chart in my research . . . people in computer forensics get a pretty good salary. :P)

Susan: I agree! It is hard science.

Mark: It can be overly glorified, true. It's nice when it's realistically portrayed without sensationalism.

Liz: It would be interesting to sit in on a forensics class sometime.

Margo: They are! Sometimes I wonder if I don't write much contemporary fiction because I worry about being outdated in a decade. :P

Carol: There's a hazy distinction. It's nice when you can actually see the process--some shows just present it like it's magic.

Ava: Hope you find the right group eventually! It sounds like a wonderful program.

Maria: Thank you! :)

DWei: "Brick it"? Not sure what that means . . . but yeah, there are ways to try and hide (or just plain delete) data.

Hilary: You're very welcome! I'm glad you're enjoying my posts so far.

Julie: You're welcome! I thought the video was really interesting; I hope it comes in handy with your WIP.

Connie: That's awesome.

Susan: Indeed. A lot of convictions are being questions because of how the evidence was collected and analyzed.

Paul: Thank you!

Beth: I'm heading over now. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Michael: I have no idea who Vincent is . . . I guess I'll find out if I ever get around to watching Bones. :P

Maurice Mitchell said...

I always think of the recent cases of forensics helping to free people from prison. That's good science.

The Golden Eagle said...

Maurice: Definitely!