Forensic expert to debate the ‘CSI effect’ with bestselling crime authors
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Communities and also in Education
Forensics in fiction is one of many scientific themes that will be discussed at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival.
Dr Stuart Hamilton, Honorary Senior Clinical Teaching Fellow at the University of Leicester and one of the honorary consultants in the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, will be attending the festival to lend his expertise in explaining the portrayal of forensics in fiction and the media. He will be joined by respected authors Ian Rankin, who has gained some knowledge of forensic practice from his work, and Kathy Reichs, a qualified forensic anthropologist who writes novels.
Dr Hamilton, who joined the University of Leicester in August 2011, has experience in media work, including being the forensic pathology series advisor for next year's series of Silent Witness. He became involved in the festival after being approached by the Royal College of Pathologists press office, based on his past interactions with the media and his work with authors and TV programmes on forensic aspects. One key motivation for Dr Hamilton’s involvement is to shed light on some of the forensic inaccuracies often used in fiction.
He said: “Forensic pathology and science has certainly not benefitted much from the way it's seen in fiction.
“There is already a concept known as the "CSI effect". This means that because people watch these things dealing with forensics, they have a very skewed view of our careers. People tend to think we can be tremendously precise with findings, but in real life we have to be very circumspect and balanced, especially when providing expert evidence in court.
“It is very rare that we can say that there is only one, very definite answer to a question. Juries see us being less definite and dogmatic than our TV counterparts and think we mustn't be very good because "they can do it on CSI". Thus, very reasonable and well-argued forensic evidence is not given much weight by jury members.”
Dr Hamilton is one of 34 Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologists in England and Wales - the pathologists responsible for investigating suspicious deaths. He sees the Cheltenham Literature Festival as a way of encouraging that the fiction remains firmly rooted in fact.
“Attending the Cheltenham Literature Festival is a great opportunity to present myself as a forensic pathologist, the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit and the University in a very positive way,” he said. “I wish to show people the important work we do and that we're willing to engage in discussion about our work, simultaneously making it clear that while we accept that fictional portrayals have to be interesting, they not representative of our real lives.”
While spending much of his time working, Dr Hamilton has a good knowledge of how forensics is portrayed in literature and the media. However, just as he establishes a divide between forensics in fiction and how forensics really work, so does he avoid mixing business with pleasure.
“I have read most of the novels by both of the authors on the panel, but I don't watch or read much crime fiction,” he said. “I spend my entire life thinking about, talking about and writing about death, particularly ones involving murder or suspected murder. I'm afraid that as I spend a lot of time at crime scenes and in mortuaries dealing with suspicious deaths and murders, I prefer something a bit more distant from my real life for entertainment these days!”
The festival, which will see some of the biggest names in publishing, politics, television, radio, art and more in attendance, will attract a wide audience, who can listen to Dr Hamilton’s informative discussions, as well as meet well-known authors such as Salman Rushdie and J.K.Rowling.
The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2012 runs from 5 October to 14 October. Dr Hamilton, Ian Rankin & Kathy Reichs will appear at Imperial Square Saturday, October 13, 2012, 18:30-19:30. Tickets are available now.