The C.S.I. Syndrome
The Positive Side
While legal professionals are justified in their concern over the C.S.I. Effect, people on juries do try to utilize the available tools. Just as scientific expertise has gradually improved the legal process over the past two centuries, it's also possible that greater attentiveness among all participants may eventually have the same result. Already, they have made the investigative process more accountable, as the public has grown more educated about the field. There are more watchdogs now among scientists as well. (Annoying as they may be to legal professionals, they do force greater care in the legal process.)
Techniques and cases shown on crime dramas have brought a lot of attention to the field of forensic investigation. Around the country, high school and college courses on any forensic subject fill up, new graduate programs have been developed to accommodate this interest, and even grade-school teachers are presenting hands-on crime labs for students. In addition, there are many more certification programs offered through colleges or online programs than ever before, from single-day to week-long seminars. This will expand the pool of applicants for positions as police officers, attorneys, and crime scene technicians, as well as those in crime labs, which means the people selected will be the cream of the crop. There will be no shortage of qualified applicants.
In addition, while we may lament mis-education via television programming, many people are inspired to purchase books by actual forensic scientists, so they eventually do learn about the facts — something they might never have done had the shows not piqued their interest. The number of books currently published in this field is unprecedented.
More important, the popular interest has influenced Congress to dedicate more funding to crime labs and forensic analysis, which means better resources all around and better science in the courtroom. The actor William Peterson, who plays Grissom, went to a congressional hearing to assist in this effort.
And finally, scientists and law enforcement have sought more opportunities to find ways to apply what goes on in the labs to the investigative process. As a result, we have procedures for identification of animal and plant DNA, better lasers, virtual autopsies, and other innovations. Even the complaints that crime shows utilize technologies not even in existence are misplaced, since some of these gadgets could inspire research to eventually make them available. Science fiction has often been the source of future innovations, so let's look at an episode of C.S.I. that could anticipate what's to come.