Thursday, May 28, 2009

TV Crime Drama—the 'CSI Effect' Again and Again

by Andrea Campbell

I’ve been talking about the differences between TV crime drama and reality for about five years now. I’ve even given programs about the subject for mystery and crime novel writers with a presentation I call "The CSI Effect: 7 Key Differences between TV Crime Drama and Reality."

The live program is fun because I bring along personal protection equipment and have an audience member “suit up” while
I’m talking. And of course it is a Tyvek HAZMAT type outfit; and then we compare it to what the chicks on the CSI shows are wearing.

This week I got a press release that some researchers at the Mayo Clinic who compared CSI and CSI: Miami to actual U. S. homicide data. No surprise, they discovered clear differences. Timothy Lineberry, M.D., a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic, says, “We make a lot of our decisions as a society based on information th
at we have, and television has been used to provide public health messages.”

Those two particular shows, CSI and CSI: Miami, were used because of their enormous viewing audience, somewhere around 43 million viewers every year.
Mainly the Mayo Clinic investigators used the
Center for Disease Control’s National Violent Death Reporting System to compare data with the television portrayals. They discovered the biggest discrepancies involved relationships, alcohol, and race where characterizations of perpetrators and victims were concerned.

Apparently, actual statistics say that drugs and alcohol affect both victim and offender at the time of the crime in reality—and that was one of the differences from what the TV shows portray.
The other main difference they found was regarding what race was more likely to be involved and on the television shows primarily they used Caucasians who did not know their attackers. In real life, however, whites are not the majority of offenders and, often, real victims know or were intimately involved with their attackers in the past.

"If we believe that there is a lack of association with alcohol, that strangers are more likely to attack, and that homicide doesn’t represent particular groups of people, it’s difficult to create public health interventions that the general public supports. We make a lot of our decisions as a society based on information that we have, and television has been used to provide public health messages." — Dr. Lineberry

I have a Web site blog called The CSI Effect, which I gave up writing about for lack of interest. I’ve written about these differences and have been trying to sell a book proposal on another Web site (for about four years now), not only about these very specific topics, but about the ramifications of how these misconceptions are perpetrated on the public and how they enter into real life—in the courtroom.

For example, years ago when people did not know as much about forensics they were little concerned about what types of evidence were brought into court and how they were collected. One could say that in the “old days,” the prosecutors took advantage of that notion at every turn. Obviously, we know now that the landscape has changed. Juries are more inclined to ask about a lack of evidence but, they also are more misinformed in many instances and take an unrealistic stance—such as expecting DNA evidence for car thefts—when that was never being done.

So the game has been upped. And in my last two articles, we’ve been talking about the recent denigrating reports from the National Academy of Sciences on behalf of Congress about forensic science and how the researchers found the industry lacking.
It's not good, we know.

But the TV producers do do those things; take more than poetic license with drama: portray white, rich, good-looking victims—because they need the show to sell to advertisers and if we saw the real low level of most crime, we’d change the channel—not sexy or appealing enough.

So television will continue to push the entertainment envelope away from reality. Reality sucks. Ask any detective. If he has the time to talk to you. Now that we’ve ferreted out these discrepancies yet again—it’s getting real old for me as a topic—let’s support science, give the labs the manpower and funds they need, educate the juries better, and kick some criminal ass.


A Voice of Sanity said...

But there's also a sort of implied CSI effect - jurors assume that there is good forensic evidence against the accused buried in the trial; and also take speculations by prosecution witnesses, speculations not compliant with Daubert and not supported by actual evidence, as valid and scientific testimony when they are clearly not.

cheryl said...

Hi Andrea,
Very good column.
The thing is, as I see it, jurors not only want to see that there is forensic evidence, they want to be able to understand it.

Most everyone understands the concept of dna evidence these days, because it's been drilled into our heads day and night.

We know that "scientific opinions" can be bought and sold at trial.

How is a jury of an indicted person's peers supposed to judge between the two supposed forensic experts? Instinct?

Indinashame Teardropsforkatelynn said...

I'm begging PLEASe don't forget little katelynn of Indiana
A Brother's Teardrops For Katelynn of Indiana

What..., would you do?

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

This is suppose to every little girls life.

What happens when life is not like that?

What if your life is filled with constant abuse by the people who suppose to protect you?

For little Katelynn of Indiana, her life is filled with this from a father, stepmother and father's family; everyone but her the relatives that love her have been deined the ability to see her.

What happens when the police will not stop this?

Than try Child Protection Service, but they will not stop this either.

The next thing to do is go to the court.

What would you do if the Child Protection Services and the court helped the abusers hurt her?

The media might work but they ignore majority of average people.

In this search for help, several politicians ignored or said stop bothering them.

If these people will not help little katelynn of Indiana than who will?

Will this little girl have to pay the ultimate price for these adults mistakes?

Now....., what WILL you do!?

referral sources:

Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation: Breaking The Silence: Children's Stories Aired on PBS
Breaking the Silence
Battered Women, Abused Children, and Child Custody A NATIONAL CRISIS
JusticeForChildren Mother's Testimony from the Battered Mothers Custody Conference --

Petition for Justice for Katelynn: