Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Facts and Fiction–one more time

So, I saw this headline over the weekend:

FBI admits it fudged forensic hair matches in nearly all criminal trials for decades

Seems like a pretty big deal. What’s more shocking – or not surprising at all – was this part:

“Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favoured prosecutors in more than 95 per cent of the 268 trials reviewed so far..”

95 percent of the “overstated forensic matches… favoured prosecutors.”

It seems like such old news now, the authorities breaking the rules, cheating, lying to get a conviction. The science being manipulated – for one side, in 95% of the cases.

And yet, in popular crime fiction science has become the star. Years ago someone said, “I’m not really into forensics, so I don’t watch much TV.” For a while there it seemed like every other show had people in white lab coats solving crimes. Pretty much always honestly, always above reproach. It was science and science doesn’t lie.

Did crime fiction show too much faith in accepting science? Or in underestimating the lengths people will go to get what they want? (This is a pet peeve of mine, how a lot of crime fiction actually sees the world as completely honest – except for the fact that everyone in a small town could be a calculating, cold-blooded murderer, capable of not only committing the most serious crimes but also of going about their lives as if nothing has happened.)

Another article I saw this week was from Cracked.com about why The X-Files won’t work today. Reason #4 was, “The attitudes towards the military are from a different era,” and pointed out that, “Americans now trust the military more than they do religious leaders, doctors, or teachers. Whether you think that's fair or a result of media brainwashing, the fact remains that repeatedly involving the military in a dark television conspiracy today would be about as popular with audiences as aliens disguised as and played by cute kittens that needed to be slaughtered at the end of every episode.”

Reason #2 was that “The conspiracies are all real now,” and said, “while there has never been a time when the U.S. government's actions were 100 percent peachy, the '90s was definitely a low point for shady government activity. Now, compare this to today. In the last 10 years, we've learned that the government has gone to war for no particular reason, tortured innocent people in secret prisons, and repeatedly executed American citizens without trial. In theory, this should give the new X-Files some great plot fuel, maybe even enough fuel to melt steel, I don't know, the truth is still out there about that. In reality, though, I think it works the opposite way. After the last 10 years or so, the mind-blowing conspiracy theories we saw revealed on the X-Files seem kind of ... quaint, like a kid finding out for the first time why their parents share a bed.”

There’s a joke in Canada that we’re always on the brink of, “Coming of age,” and we never really do (one of our prime ministers once said, “The 20th century belongs to Canada,” and we’ve now revised it to, “The 21st century,” and I expect we’ll keep revising that forever) and that Americans lose their innocence every thirty years.

So now, according to Cracked.com, the 1990’s were a low point for shady government activity. I think maybe a new X-Files will work really well as it seems we’re almost due for another loss of innocence.

1 comment:

seana graham said...

Maybe you could write it, John.

I saw that FBI story on Rachel Maddow last night and was astonished, but went on to other things and had completely forgotten about it till now.

I wonder if I was typical in that. I wonder if so many outrageous things are presented to us every day that our outrage response is somehow weakened.