The popularity of the television program CSI has far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. CSI is more than just a highly watched television program. It is a worldwide phenomenon. This should come as no surprise since the process surrounding crime scene investigations is mysterious to many and the program attracts the curious. Now, thanks to CSI, many “civilians” have a clear insight into this process. In particular, they are getting a glimpse into the very odd world of forensic pathology and its relationship to criminal investigations. However, the images people possess regarding pathology are often cursory. This is why a more comprehensive overview of pathology is needed to dispel some myths surrounding this science.
Where do these myths derive? It is all in the presentation. Most television and movie presentations present pathologists as creepy, strange coroners who seemingly enjoy living in a morgue. This is an absurd stereotype that misses a number of points. First, coroners are critical to police departments thanks to their ability to provide accurate information on fatalities. Additionally, coroners are skilled pathologists who spend many years developing their abilities. Unfortunately, most people are unfamiliar with what pathology entails.
So what is pathology? Pathology is essentially the study of disease. This study centers on the effects of disease on the various organs in the body. This is done for one reason alone: to research the various facets of disease so as to gain an insight into how to deal with the disease. From this research, the ability to seek remedies for diseases is possible.
There are many different ways pathology research is conducted. When it comes to law enforcement, this research is often used to ascertain a cause of death. In such instances, pathologists assume the role of a coroner. Coroners provide official information on the cause of death to the courts and law enforcement agents. It is this aspect of pathology which is prominently featured on television programs such as CSI.
Classic TV Coroners
Contrary to popular belief, however, television presentations of forensic pathology to solve crimes did not begin with CSI. Actually, Jack Klugman brought this type of detective work to the public eye with the landmark series QUINCY, M.E, in the 1970′s. This series revolved around a skeptical pathologist who had a knack for solving crimes via forensic evidence. QUINCY, M.E. ran for years in syndication and later on the A&E cable network in the 1990′s. While this program was the most popular television series to feature a forensic pathologists/detective, it was not the first. From 1966 – 1968, John Vernon (of ANIMAL HOUSE fame) starred in the Canadian TV series WOJECK which was a stirring detective series surrounding an intrepid coroner who solves crimes. WOJECK was an obvious influence on QUINCY, M.E. which was hugely influential on CSI.
But why is forensic pathology so popular in entertainment mediums? There is a mix of mystery and weirdness surrounding the field of pathology. This makes it oddly compelling subject matter for police procedurals. That is why we see it in CSI and will continue to see it in other programs in the future.
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