why you shouldn’t have a forensic pathologist looking at bones, and why a forensic anthropologist can’t tell you cause of death.
Now, this is a very personal pet peeve of mine.
Shows like Bones (which originally started out SO WELL with defined science roles), CSI, etc seem to enjoy putting all the forensic specialties (and the role of a CSI tech) into a blender and randomly assigning roles to random people who do not have the stated qualifications to do half of the shit that they’re doing.
This, in technical parlance, is called “mission creep” and it weakens your stance in court when presenting expert witness…but that aside, what do all these varying forensic [x] folks do, and what can they provide you?
- CSI Techs- All hail the almighty CSI tech. These folks are either trained specially within the police, or, like yours truly, are trained on a specialty university course. They’re responsible for processing any new/newish (less than 2 years old) scene…or doing grunt lab work whilst the big brains (pathologists, anthropologists, toxicologists, chemists, entomologists) do the frilly thinky stuff.
They don’t get paid much (£16K a year to start, rising to a lofty £18K after two years of work) despite the fact it’s thanks to these folks that retrieval of evidence is possible in modern crime scenes
They also are very rarely called to provide expert evidence in court, so…
- Forensic archaeologists-This is a specialty really only ‘pulled out’ in the UK.
A forensic archaeologist is responsible for overseeing CSI techs, formulating search strategies, helping recover buried/hidden items, and estimating time since deposition of item/body using taphonomic methods (how the item/body got there and what it went through when it was there).
Often work in conjunction with pathologists and anthropologists if called out for mass victim identification/recovery
In the US, this role is often combined with the forensic anthropologist.
…Essentially, a forensic archaeologist is a glorified search-recovery individual.
- Forensic pathologist- These folks only deal with soft tissue, can help you establish cause of death, and often work in conjunction with forensic anthropologists and forensic toxicologists.
In the UK, all forensic pathologists used to be trained as medical doctors first, then specialized into forensics. However, with the expansion of forensic knowledge, this practice appears to be falling out of use.
- Forensic toxicologist- These folks deal mainly with soft tissue. They’re the ones to consult if you suspect drug/alcohol use as a factor contributing to a situation, deliberate/accident poisoning, or overdose.
Very chemistry based and one of the older sub-disciplines within forensic sciences.
In a fun mesh of fields, toxicologists and entomologists can/will work together, given that drugs cause weird things to happen to the behaviour of maggots and flies
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of forensic toxicology/forensic sciences in the US, I recommend “The Poisoner’s Handbook”
- Forensic entomologist- Bug folks. (And yes, crustaceans are mollusks are often thrown into this label)
You consult one if you have maggots on a ‘fresh’ body, or evidence of insect activity on/around an ‘older’ body. They can help with estimation of time since deposition, but not time since death.
- Forensic anthropologist- bones, bones, and nothing BUT bones. While trained how to deal with soft tissue, they are unable to provide interpretation on soft tissue…nor can they provide you cause of death. (Unless there is significant evidence to suggest fatal injury upon the bone- such as cranial fractures)
See most use on cold cases and disaster victim identification.
A lot of the ‘first gen’ of forensic anthropologists (Ubelaker, Bass, Beck, Owsley, etc), come either from an archaeological/physical anthropology or anatomist background.
As this field has been proven to be useful within the courts, there has been a proliferation of specialist training courses-usually at the master’s level- for the field.
- Forensic psychologist- tend to only deal with live populations.
Two ‘sorts’- one, an individual who works in conjunction with the courts to aid in determining competency to stand trial and if a person should be tried as ‘insane’ or ‘sane’
Two, an individual who works in conjunction with other forensic recovery scientists to help determine disposal patterns and profile of individual. Also called ‘profilers.’
There are, of course, MANY more fields within forensics…as all forensics really is are ‘sciences/arts that are in interaction with a legal system, be it national or international’
(So, yes, forensic document analysis is ‘a thing,’ as is a forensic accountant, and a forensic artist…)