CSI lies and suspicious science over at Cocktail Party Physics
Forensic science has come a long way since Sherlock Holmes bragged that he could identify 140 types of tobacco from their ash. And far be it from me to diss one of my favorite shows on the TV I don’t own, the original CSI, which is loaded with fantastic sciency goodness, even if it is a little unrealistic. CSI? Unrealistic? Hate to break it to you kids, but, yeah. At the very least, the speed with which our intrepid heroes get their results would make any cop, ADA, or defense attorney double over in laughter, when they’re not crying.
Time-compression is the sin here, and it’s not new nor confined to CSI. I can go back to some of the favorite shows of my youth, like Adam-12, where all of the boring inaction of real-life policework has been culled. And newer shows, like NUMB3RS, display time compression as well. And the shows know this
A related sleight of hand is time compression: Charlie solves huge problems in short order. On CSI, tests come back in hours; in real life, they would take weeks. “We get bagged on a lot for that,” says CSI executive producer Naren Shankar, possibly the only writer in television with a Ph.D. in applied physics. (Shankar´s first Hollywood job was as a science researcher for Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
Time compression, to me, is a forgivable sin. I am willing to concede the trimming of the dead-time so that the show can be wrapped up in an hour. The streamlining of the false-positives fall into that category, too, for me, though I wonder if they couldn’t be worked into the story lines. (It’s quite possible they have and I’m just not remembering)
The act that bothers me more is the magic TV shows often do with image enhancement. Some low-resolution, blurry image is analyzed, and that tiny section off in the corner is blown up and magically transformed into a high-resolution crystal-clear image, revealing crucial detail (often the face of the killer, or the license plate of their car). Sorry, but if all you have is 640 x 480 from some crappy security camera, it’s not going to get better than that. Once you get down to one pixel, you can’t subdivide it.