“CSI Effect” Impacts Forensic Science

Forensic Science: Mignon DunbarMany people are familiar with the field of forensic science from popular crime television shows, such as CBS’ long-running crime drama, CSI. The iconic crime show recently aired its last episode, after 15 seasons and more than 300 episodes.

Over the years, CSI cemented itself within our society and largely influenced the way society perceives crime, the criminal justice system and the forensic science. Scientists describe this influence as the “CSI effect,” referring how the show has shaped the way jurors and prosecutors perceive crime scene investigations.

I recently came across this news article out of Kansas City, which describes how the “CSI effect” has impacted crime scene investigations in Johnson County.


As a result of the show CSI, there is a big misperception of the timelines of test results and cracked cases. “With increased awareness comes a lot more expectations,” stated Kristine Olsson, a blood spatter analyst and trace evidence scientist.

While the show walks viewers through a crime from discovery to conviction in an hour, the reality is that this process is extremely lengthy and complicated. People do not realize how long it can take to run a DNA test or get results from a drug lab.

This perception of crime scene investigations is an obstacle that investigators and forensic scientist will need to work to overcome.

A great way to overcome this perception is through the education process. An area where CSI has also had had a strong influence, but this time for the better. “The entertainment value caused interest and with interest came education,” Olsson described.

The forensic science field has become much more attractive to younger generations and more colleges are now offering degrees in forensic science.

CSI has also been extremely influential in garnering support for funding the forensic science field. Allen Hamm, interim director at the Johnson County crime lab, credits CSI for helping to get approval for the current, state of the art 15,000-square foot crime lab.

“Without the public’s knowledge and awareness of the need of forensic science in our community , they probably wouldn’t have voted and approved the 2008 quarter cent sales tax that funded this facility,” Hamm said.

Although CSI will no longer be airing new episodes, its influence on our society will live on for years to come. The show shed light on a field that, before, went largely went unnoticed and gave people an inside look at how forensic science impacts our lives on a daily basis.