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Monday, January 26, 2015

Sherlock Holmes: Grandfather of Forensic Science?

In the last few decades, the average person has become familiar with forensic science and the high tech equipment that does much of the work (Mass Spec etc.).  This is due in large part to television shows like the CSI suite of shows (CSI Vegas, CSI Miami, CSI NY, NCIS, Bones, Crossing Jordan, and likely others). 

I found this fascinating PBS show that traces our modern forensics back to the Sherlock Holmes stories of  1887 through to 1921.  It may seem fantastic to make such a claim, but here are some of the highlights that I found convincing:

When Sherlock first came on the scene, Victorian England was in the midst of the Ripper murders.  Police didn’t know about preserving a crime scene, they collected little-to-no evidence.  Sherlock’s approach was revolutionary and hadn’t even been considered when he was first published.  The police of the day weren’t there to collect evidence, they rounded up the usual suspects and got confessions.  Conan Doyle, a graduate of medical school, unwittingly wrote the first forensic science examples.  Conan Doyle and his fictional Holmes educated the law enforcement of the day on how scientific investigations should be conducted, and he still inspires forensic scientists today.

 The Sherlock Holmes stories were the first to show law enforcement to look for small items with a magnifying glass, and to look for minute traces and evidence, to sniff and measure, and to preserve a crime scene from contamination.

From fingerprints, footprints, blood, ballistics, and poison he was 125 years ahead of his time.  Sherlock’s deductive reasoning is primarily based on what is now considered Forensic evidence.

Here is the program for you to watch if you are intrigued.  Enjoy!

What do you think?  Is Sherlock the grandfather of our modern Forensic Science?

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