Think forensic science is easy? They’ll clue you in
Story and photos by Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
The seniors in Jamie Cooner’s Capstone in Forensic Science course last semester were not your typical group of students who happened to be taking a class together.
They bonded to form a unified front, a small band of future scientists with a two-fold message they want to share with the Grand Canyon University community:
- Don’t believe everything you see on the crime-sleuthing television shows.
- Despite the glamour with which it is depicted, forensic science is a rigorous, demanding major with science requirements similar to those in GCU’s pre-med program.
Call it, “the CSI effect,” said senior Cyprianna Smith, a Forensic Science major. “People watch TV and think they know how to do our job.”
To set the record straight on the effectiveness of forensic science, each student contributed to an end-of-semester report on the topic and invited a GCU Today writer to hear their views.
“We decided as a whole to write and educate people about the depth of difficulty of forensic science,” said senior Ariel Johnson, a Forensic Science major.
In the report, students said that shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Dexter” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” don’t reflect the grim reality that forensic science is far from ideal.
“All shows have illustrated perfection in the forensic science field,” the report says. “Forensic science appears infallible and perfect, but forensic science is far from perfect.”
They discovered through research that faulty forensic science investigations can lead to imprisoning the innocent.
“Many people are ripped away from their lives and families to serve a prison sentence for a crime they did not commit,” the report said. This is “shocking … to say the least, from a discipline that has so many people believing its flawlessness.”
Just finding DNA at a scene, for example, doesn’t magically lead police to the culprit no matter what the crime is, said senior Joshua Lewis, also a Forensic Science major.
DNA processing is time consuming and expensive and can be nullified by equipment failure, human error and inadequate samples, Lewis said. It is not a smoking gun.
Each state, crime lab and jurisdiction has the potential to have its own set of procedures — there is no national standard — and evidence is tested on equipment as infallible as the human beings who build and use it.
“People need to understand the science behind it, why certain evidence is processed, why certain evidence is abandoned,” Lewis said. “Human error can lead to the wrong result.”
There is much more to processing evidence than meets the eye, said Cooner, a College of Science, Engineering and Technology adjunct faculty member who teaches classes and labs in crime scene processing and physical evidence.
“Any trained monkey can go collect evidence and lift fingerprints,” Cooner said. “But the science is not common knowledge. It takes rigorous advanced study.
“GCU’s forensic science program is very, very difficult. All of these students are exceptionally smart.”
The science classes that GCU requires for the major include chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, crime scene processing, organic chemistry, pathophysiology, principals of biochemistry, genetics, physical evidence, physics, toxicology and body fluid and DNA analysis.
The expertise the students gain leads to high paying jobs in such fields as crime labs, hospitals and clinical labs, said senior Jerusalem Kebede. Students also go on to medical school.
“The degree plan at this institution is phenomenal,” Kebede said.
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected]