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TV Forensics: 'Bones' Makes It Look So Easy

Aug 25, 2010 (Talk of the Nation)

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Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan solves slayings with science in a best selling series of thrillers. Those popular books are also the inspiration for the Fox Television program, Bones.

Brennan may be a fictional forensics prodigy, but she's also the alter ego of real-life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. Reichs is a producer of Bones, and author of the Temperance Brennan novels.

Reich's Spider Bones, the 13th installment in the series, sheds light on the sometimes tangled webs of the criminal justice system, while the intrepid Brennan demonstrates how forensic anthropology can be used to solve decades-old mysteries.

But while forensic techniques, such as bitemark and footprint analysis, have become staples of police show plot lines, Reichs says many programs don't reflect the reality of forensics investigations. "Sometimes a technique may have some legitimacy to it," she tells host Neal Conan, "but it's pushed way beyond where it ought to be used."

As crime labs become increasingly popular on television, Reichs says many viewers have developed mistaken impressions about how real-world — and often cash-strapped — police departments solve crimes. All the technology used in the Bones labs is authentic, she says, but most real crime labs simply don't have access to those high-tech tools. "That's because you can't afford it — you can't afford to buy a three-dimensional holographic reconstruction machine, for example."

"That is the down side to all of these shows," says Reichs. "It does raise perhaps unrealistic expectations about what will be available in every single case."

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