Forensic Labs At UVA Less Dramatic Than TV

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

April 27, 2005

Wildly popular TV shows like CSI show viewers the forensic side of solving crimes. However, experts said the power of science isn't always fast paced and action packed.

CSI is now the most watched TV show in prime time. Experts say what keeps viewers glued to the tube is the way the show portrays forensic pathologists as crime fighters who always have the right answers. However, a University of Virginia Pathologist said the show's popularity has given people an unrealistic idea of what criminal science can really deliver.

"It is real in the sense, in the beginning and the end," said Dr. Lawrence Silverman. What happens in between is not always factual.

"CSI, they might be starting with some kind of body fluid, or they could be starting with hair, or they could be starting with something like skin, anything they can find in a crime scene," said Silverman.

At the University of Virginia molecular lab blood, samples are usually brought in from other areas of the hospital. Mostly, they're trying to identify infectious diseases. Experts said the techniques of DNA sampling are the same, but the amount of time it takes to get results isn't always as quick as TV portrays.

"Many of our tests are reported on the same day--I would say the routine tests. [Others] take longer," said Karen Seigrist.

"It can take 6 to 8 weeks but we found through DNA sequencing we can identify these organisms in about 48 hours." While the TV series may play loose with the details, they're not always that far off the mark.

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