On October 9, 2013, CHF aired #HistChem Episode 3, “Digging Up the Bodies: Debunking CSI and Other Forensics Myths.” Guests were Anna Dhody, a physical and forensic anthropologist, and Lisa Rosner, a historian. They discussed forensics past and present and the chemistry that happens to the human body.
The discussion examined the “CSI effect,” which is caused by the simplification of forensics in popular culture. CSI and likeminded TV shows–with their heroic investigators solving crimes in mere minutes–mislead viewers and affect real court cases. The reality of investigation is much slower and more complex, but no less fascinating.
Learn more at chemheritage.org/media
CLICK THE TIME STAMPS BELOW TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE HOSTS' QUESTIONS AND TO HEAR THE GUESTS' ANSWERS.
00:38 MICHAL MEYER: Welcome to #HistChem, a history show that helps us understand the science and technology world we live in. I’m Michal Meyer, a historian of science and editor of Chemical Heritage Magazine here at CHF.
00:54 BOB KENWORTHY: And I’m Bob Kenworthy. I’m a chemist, and also on staff here at CHF. Our show today is “Digging Up the Bodies: Debunking CSI and other Forensics Myths.” Our guests today are Lisa Rosner, a historian, and physical and forensic anthropologist, Anna Dhody.
02:39 MICHAL MEYER: So how did you get involved with forensics?
02:43 LISA ROSNER: I actually started life as a very sober minded historian of medicine … You can’t get much more below than going to cadavers, and crimes. Six feet below, I guess you could say. So that just became something that fascinated me and that I investigated.
03:44 MICHAL MEYER: Anna, how did you start "digging up the bodies," as it were?
03:49 ANNA DHODY: Well, if you ask my mother, it started when I was seven years old and autopsied my Barbie doll. I think that was the beginning of my fascination with the human body.
05:25 BOB KENWORTHY: I’m the chemist here, and I want to know about chemistry of the body. So, what does chemistry teach us about bodies?
06:52 ANNA DHODY: For instance, at the Mutter Museum we have the Soap Lady. And she was preserved by saponification.
10:11 MICHAL MEYER: Let's talk about the origins of forensic science.
12:40 ANNA DHODY: Around 1910 there was a scientist named Locard who came up with Locard’s Principle of Transference which we still talk about and use today.
15:36 BOB KENWORTHY: I look at that kind of work and I wonder if you can tell us about the high and low points of your career.
19:28 MICHAL MEYER: Well let’s go back a little bit further in the past where issues of social justice don’t play such a big role. I want to go back to your book The Anatomy Murders, which is about some truly spectacular crimes and lots of skullduggery.
23:14 MICHAL MEYER: Who were the characters [in the Burke and Hare case]?
27:58 MICHAL MEYER: And they managed to get Burke and Hare?
30:03 LISA ROSNER: That’s one of the things about forensic science, it’s not just whether it can convey certainty to, let’s say, the criminal justice system. It has to convey certainty to the jury as well.
30:18 BOB KENWORTHY: Where there’s a body, there’s a crime. Is that pretty much the mantra of forensic science?
31:33 BOB KENWORTHY: How do you reconstruct a crime?
33:33 VIDEO: Behind the Scenes at the Mutter Museum
35:34 BOB KENWORTHY: Forensics has become part of popular culture these days with Crime Scene Investigation or CSI television shows and I’d like to turn that to Anna. There’s something called the “CSI effect” in real forensic science. How do you react to that?
38:55 BOB KENWORTHY: Was there a CSI effect in the 19th century?
41:24 MICHAL MEYER: Assume just for a moment that I am a criminal. What kind of evidence would I most not want to leave behind?
43:23 MICHAL MEYER: Let's focus on the topic of skulls for a moment ...
48:09 MICHAL MEYER: I have a [Twitter] question from someone asking if you have ever served as an expert in front of a jury.
49:29 IMAGE: New York Times Magazine centerfold image of a 1927 physics conference with only one women in the picture.
52:01 MICHAL MEYER: What do you want people to know about your work?
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