The CSI effect

Authored by: Simon A. Cole , Glenn Porter

The Routledge International Handbook of Forensic Intelligence and Criminology

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138688216
eBook ISBN: 9781315541945
Adobe ISBN:


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Media and popular culture have historically been eager to reflect and popularize the application of science and technology to crime-fighting and criminal investigation. However, the media depiction of science and technology in the criminal justice system has also provoked anxiety. Various actors, including the media itself, have worried about how media portrayals of criminal justice, and the role of science and technology in it, may affect the public. The media panic over ‘the CSI effect’ is only the most recent manifestation of this phenomenon. CSI is to some extent a fantasy about forensic science and its role in the criminal justice system, albeit a fantasy that is partially rooted in some actual significant technological developments. Media claims about the CSI effect raise a number of issues of relevance to both criminology and forensic science. If, for example, CSI facilitates the commission of crime, this would be an issue of criminological relevance. Forensic scientists should be interested in the claim that CSI has stimulated vocational interest in forensic science as a profession. If CSI causes fact-finders to be more or less trusting of forensic scientists, forensic scientists might perceive these differences when they appear in court. If, as has been hypothesized, jurors demand more forensic evidence in more cases, this would presumably increase forensic laboratories’ workload. It would also result in increased demands for forensic scientists to explain in court why certain well known forensic procedures were not applied in particular cases. This article suggests forensic scientists and criminologists broaden their inquiry beyond the mere supposed effect of 2000s-decade television programming on jury verdicts and view the CSI effect as a discourse about the way that forensic science and its role in the criminal justice system are perceived by the media and the public.

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