"The CSI Effect," is a reference to the popular television show CSI -- Crime Scene Investigation and its spin-offs.
In reality, our forensic science system, upon which criminal and civil litigation depends, has been found to be far from meeting scientific standards.
A National Research Council report, "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward," stated:
"The forensic science system in the United States has serious problems that can only be addressed by a national commitment to overhaul the current structure that supports the forensic science community,"
The report urges Congress to authorize and fund a new federal entity, the National Institute of Forensic Science, or NIFS, to oversee how forensic science is practiced in the United States.
The report was welcomed by lawyers for the Innocence Project, which has employed DNA evidence to help free 232 wrongly convicted defendants.
For example, it mentions the case of attorney Brandon Mayfield who in 2004 was erroneously linked by digital fingerprint images to train bombing in Madrid that year. Mayfield was arrested and subsequently released when the FBI acknowledged that it had made a mistake.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said "many forensic disciplines lack the standards necessary to ensure their scientific reliability in court (and) that forensic laboratories and their experts do not have uniform, mandatory accreditation policies."
Did you ever wonder what those pesky moths ate before they ate your clothes in your closet? Clothes moths were known previously to feed on dead animals. Recently, scientists also discovered that the casemaking clothes moth, one of the two most common closet menaces, can be helpful in forensic work as well!
The casemaking clothes moth, so named because it makes a fuzzy case-like home for itself as a young caterpillar, will eat human hair and can even feed on corpses. The caterpillars can eat enough hair to identify a body with DNA.
These moths can be particularly helpful if a body is moved to a new location. The caterpillar will move to a nearby spot, away from the body, to make its cocoon. Then, if the body is moved, DNA evidence from the caterpillar in the cocoon can tie the victim to the original location.
More information on this can be found at Science News.
Courtesy matt coatsImagine a crime scene that has hundreds of crime scene investigators. All of the students at Arlington High School in St. Paul, MN are working together to crack the case! As part of the school’s BioSMART program, intended to expose students sciences, engineering, business, etc., this school-wide lesson is drawing on a variety of different disciplines. Art students have become sketch artists, English language learners are questioning “persons of interest”, other students are working to determine the angles of blood spatter. I think this lesson is really a neat way to highlight how crime scene investigation draws on many different subjects and specialists. It is also a cool way to get students interested in subjects that maybe they would not have thought about before. What do you think?
Liza might have posted this somewhere already, but in case you missed it, here's a great video on the work being done at the Body Farm. Warning, it is graphic.
Courtesy kevindooleyIn the course of robbing a house, it may seem like a small thing to snag a can of pop. But leaving that can behind can also leave the evidence necessary for a conviction. A recent Associated Press article, Police use DNA to solve everyday property crimes, detailed the increasing use of DNA by Denver police in burglary and car theft cases. A Denver suspect was convicted of five robberies because he left pop cans behind at each scene. DNA analysis of his saliva then linked him to all five cases. Other convictions came from a lollipop and a tuna sandwich. The average stolen property sentence in Denver in a case where DNA was used as evidence was 14 years as opposed to an average 11/2 years without DNA.
Using DNA has become more possible now because it is less expensive, requires a smaller sample, and takes less time than before. On the low end, it can take only 12 hours and 50 dollars. The CSI exhibit currently at the Science Museum seeks to show visitors how the techniques seen on the show are used in real-world forensics, so I thought it was interesting that the article included this quote:
"Regular watchers of CSI may be led to believe that this technology is already being used in this way, but it's really brand-new," said John Roman of the Urban Institute, lead author of a study on the issue. "This really is the start of a revolution in policing."
Courtesy Civics OnlineI just finished reading an incredible book about Abraham Lincoln – Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln -- by Doris Kearns Godwin. Of course, it ends with his assassination at Ford’s Theater right after the end of the Civil War.
Much to my surprise today, I come across a headline that at the time of his death, Lincoln may have only had about six months to live due to the effects of a rare type of cancer. Doctor/author John G. Sotos makes the case for Lincoln’s cancer diagnosis in an upcoming book.
One thing that struck me in Team of Rivals, which is written based on thousands of letters and diaries written by Lincoln’s associates during the time he was alive, was that most were first impressed and/or put off by his unusual appearance. Sotos theorizes that those appearances were related to Lincoln’s cancer.
Sotos thinks Lincoln suffered from MEN 2B, a genetic form of cancer that can account for unusual height along with unusual facial features – lumps of nervous tissue on the eyelids, tongue and lips. Sotos also thinks one of Lincoln’s sons died from the same type of cancer
And CSI-type techniques may come into play to see if Sotos is right. A small sampling of DNA is all that ‘s needed to check the condition of chromosome 10 of Lincoln’s genetic code to see if it shows signs of MEN 2B. Samples of his DNA can be collected from any of the many blood-stained fabrics that have been preserved from Lincoln’s death, or from the eight skull fragments that were preserved from the president’s autopsy.
If it is determined that Lincoln had MEN 2B, he’d be the earliest recorded case of that type of cancer. But as news of this theory has spread, there are already other members of the medical community saying that it isn’t possible.
What do you think? Should efforts be made to test some of Lincoln’s remains for MEN 2B? Or should we leave the remains alone and keep it a mystery? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
If you want to learn more about this, here’s the link to an extensive Washington Post article on the topic.
If you think the Da Vinci Code was controversial, wait until you learn about "The Lost Tomb of Jesus". Combining the popularity of CSI and NUMB3RS, Academy Award winner James Cameron has put together a documentary about a family crypt possibly containing the bones of Jesus. Ten ossuaries (stone boxes) were labeled with the names of Jesus and those believed to refer to his mother, father, brothers, wife, and son. Amos Kloner estimated that the tomb contained 35 bodies. (Antiquot,Jerusalem, Vol. 29, pp. 22)
Faith does not require evidence. If you wish to review the evidence, though, you can start by going to http://www.discovery.com/tomb. Discovery also has a web site with flash navigation to maps, family trees, videos, etc. Be sure to click on "Download Documents" found by choosing "explore tomb" then "enter the tomb". The link is the middle one at the bottom (pdf). There is a discussion forum, too.
Please use our comments box to discuss this event as it unfolds. I find I can learn about critical thinking and scientific methods by listening in.
March 28, 1980
Talpiot, Jerusalem Construction work uncovers untouched tomb.
March 28- April 14
Israeli Antiquities Authority excavate tomb. Site survey and mapmade by Shimon Gibson
"A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in the East Talpiot" published by Amos Kloner
Simcha Jacobovici researches "James son of Joseph, broher of Jesus" ossuary
Jacobovici meets Kloner and learns of "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary
June 18, 2003
"James" ossuary declared a forgery by Israel Antiquities Authority
Jacobovici discovers futher information about other ossuaries related to New Testament
March 21, 2005
James Cameron discusses financing a film
September 15-16, 2006
Robotic cameras lowered down "breathing pipes" capture images of a different tomb - one that has not been excavated and still holds numerous ossuaries.