For a good six years now, people have been fascinated by watching actors dig around in dead people. “ER” was popular for a while, but now it just doesn’t cut it; most of those people survived after all. Our brains have evolved so that we really need to see some dead people— or people we wish were dead, like Flavor Flav— to get full enjoyment out of our nighttime television programs.
“CSI” has been the number one non-reality series in the Nielsen ratings for the past three years, and it is now in its sixth season. Viewers are riveted to the screen as the stars take DNA samples off of cigarette butts and analyze blood-spatter patterns. Have you ever wondered how much of this show is actual science? The Whatcom County Medical Examiner, Gary Goldfogel, M.D., will be presenting his lecture on “Modern Death Investigation: Fact and Fiction of CSI” at 7 p.m. Thursday, February. 2, at the St. Joseph Hospital Conference Center, at 2901 Squalicum Parkway.
Goldfogel is the real thing, folks. There are less than 400 practicing board-certified forensic pathologists in the United States, according to a Western news release, and Goldfogel is one of them. According to the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Ronald Kleinknecht, “[Goldfogel] contracts with the county to investigate deaths. He does autopsies on deaths, particularly at crime scenes. He’s the guy who does blood samples, and examines bodies for different types of injuries.” The Western news release described the crimes he investigates as, “sudden, unexpected, violent, suspicious or unnatural.”
According to Dean Kleinknecht, “[Goldfogel] will talk about the kinds of things portrayed on TV. Some are very accurate because they hire people like him to consult. I actually believe that he’s done some [consulting]. There are always elements that are sort of Hollywoodish, so he is going to point out what is fact and what is fiction.”
Regardless of science versus fiction, “CSI” was dissmissed by ABC as “too confusing for the average viewer” when they passed on the show, according to Wikipedia. It was eventually picked up by CBS, where clearly the scientific basis of the show has not scared off many viewers. In fact, there has been an interesting change in the judicial system that many attribute to the “CSI effect.”
“Talking about science in the courtroom used to be like talking about geometry— a real jury turnoff,” said jury consultant Robert Hirschhorn in a 2003 interview with USA Today. “Now that there’s this almost obsession with the [TV] shows; you can talk to jurors about [scientific evidence] and just see from the looks on their faces that they find it fascinating.”
According to the same USA Today article, there are several cases that have echoes of this “CSI effect.” One such case happened in 2001 in Richmond, Virginia. Jurors in the trial questioned whether or not a cigarette found at the scene of the crime had been investigated for DNA evidence. When the test results showed the jury’s idea was correct, the jury acquitted the defendant.
“Modern Death Investigation: Fact and Fiction of CSI” is the second of the quarterly Dean’s Lecture Series from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The goal of the lecture series is “to take Western faculty’s expertise on a variety of topics of interest into the community,” according to Dean Kleinknecht. In contrast to lectures on campus, the Dean’s Lecture Series is designed to get out into the community so that Western’s special events can reach more people. Of course, students are invited to attend as well. The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 2, at the St. Joseph Hospital Conference Center, 2901 Squalicum Parkway. For more information, contact Betty Krejci, CHSS director of development at 650-2562.