Sunday, April 03, 2005

Crime scene investigation

I have had a chance to talk with some physical anthroplogists today, one who said he was "in forensic science before it was cool." Dr. Harrell Gill-King says he stopped mentioning his job at cocktail parties so as not to be mobbed by people interested in crime scenes. He says forensics specialists are usually very specialized in one area, not experts in every aspect of an investigation like the actors on the CSI shows on TV. He knows how to interpret plane crashes, accidents and murders, but he seeks help when it relates to a wound and how fast a knife traveled or how many teeth were in the blade.

Dr. David Glassman says that experience wins over technology most days. He works with law enforcement to look at fractured bones to determine the type of injury that has occured, such as high velocity gunshot wounds or low velocity impacts like punching. Dr. Glassman says that technology is not as helpful in finding answers as actual practice. He says that "most answers come from recognition of minute differences that occur between different ages, ancestry, backgrounds, and inujuries, something that comes with years of experience. He says, "When forensic scientists like me look for a small mark made in bone by a knife, we usually use our finger tips, like reading Braille."

Scientists often look for clues from obvious things like dental fillings, but they also look at lack of healthcare as a possible socioeconomic link or low self-esteem. Dr. Mark Teaford, a physical anthroplogist, says that teeth are one of the best clues at a crime scene. Teeth tell alot about age, health, nutritional status, and even the type of food in a person's diet. He can tell how teeth wear when a person has been stressed. These scientists say that their work is not as glamorous as it looks like on TV. Dr. Glassman says he realizes that much of the work "may not make particularly good television."

Dr. Gregory Buck, a molecular geneticist, says, "Bottom line, forensic sciences is not just about the way TV shows depict it, but about using science to solve legal problems - meaning how did someone die and what were the circumstances and how do we use science to discern all these things, really a team effort.

Signing off for now.

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