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See Inside July 2006

CSI: The Reality

Attorneys, investigators and educators have felt the impact of television's popular forensics programs

Forensic science has been the backbone of mystery stories from Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin adventures to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales to Jack Klugman's Quincy television series to today's wildly successful forensics shows. Holmes's methods presaged many actual techniques for linking physical evidence to the perpetrator of a crime, such as blood testing. Forensic science was codified as a profession in the early 1900s and exploded into the public consciousness in the 1990s with the advent of DNA analysis.

Forensics has never been more popular or popularized: eight crime dramas, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its sibling programs, made it into the top 20 shows last October. On one Thursday that month, 27 percent of all American televisions that were turned on were tuned to CSI. On cable, CourtTV's Forensic Files, a documentary-style series featuring real crimes and real scientists, airs four days a week. Such programs give the impression that forensic laboratories are fully staffed with highly trained personnel, stocked with a full complement of state-of-the-art instrumentation and rolling in the resources to close every case in a timely fashion.

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