Forensic Psychology: Forensic Science Resources
Forensic scientists ask the question “how did this happen?” Where science and law intersect, forensic science provides a reconstruction of events, examining the evidence in pursuit of justice. In this guide to forensic science from a criminal justice perspective, we examine how the various practices lumped together as “forensics” apply to criminal cases, and assemble a list of related resources for the student researcher.
Different Forensic Techniques
Some forensic methods and sub-disciplines are highly familiar to the layman through movies, television, and trial coverage. DNA analysis, fingerprinting, dental record examination, psychological profiling, reconstruction based on a skeleton, examination of gunshot residue, blood spatter analysis, and hair and fiber analysis have all entered the realm of general knowledge. We’d like to focus on a few of the lesser-known but still fascinating tools used by forensic scientists.
One such sub-field is forensic entomology, the use of insect-related evidence in the study of crimes. Insects are omnipresent in almost every environment on our planet, and the presence of insects at a crime scene can tell the scientist a great deal about the details of what happened. For example, some insects are only active at certain times of day. Others are only present in certain environments. The presence of these insects on an object or body can say something about when it arrived at a location and where it arrived from. Other insects lay their eggs in dead bodies, and the presence of eggs can tell a scientist when a person most likely died. Forensic botany is a related field. The presence of plant parts, rather than insects, is used, and can be revealing about where a crime took place.
Forensic linguistics is another sub-field, using the nature of language to determine something about a crime. By examining the subtleties of phrasing, linguists can determine whether or not two documents came from the same author — a practice known as stylometry. This technique was critical, for instance, in the capture of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Stylometry has also proven useful to determine the authenticity of documents such as suicide and ransom notes. Linguists can also gather information from tapes, including analysis of what someone is actually saying and identification of an accent. This has been more useful in Britain than America, due to the greater diversity of accents in the British Isles. A particularly notable case of this is the Yorkshire Ripper tape hoax, in which a man claiming to be the Yorkshire Ripper was shown to be a fake due to his pronounced Sunderland accent.
Forensic meteorology is a method of recreating the weather events that occurred in a specific location within a specific timeframe. Weather affects the process of decomposition and the condition of a body can show the effects of certain weather events, such as rain, freezing and thawing, and extreme heat.
We’ve included links to a wide variety of forensics-related resources, including sites sponsored by professional forensic scientists and those intended for forensics fans.
- Forensic Magazine is a great general interest resource for budding forensics buffs.
- The Wiley Encyclopedia of Forensic Science is a more serious, scholarly, subscription only resource.
- The American Academy of Forensic Science is the United States’ principal profesional organization of forensic scientists.
- Forensics as a career is explained in this page, hosted by Simon Fraser University.
- Dr. Jason Byrd documents the fascinating world of forensic entomology.
- An educational portal from the University of Wisconsin explains the world of forensic anthropology, the identification of characteristics of bodies and bones.
- The Forensic Archaeology Organisation is a British group covering the applications of archaeological methods to forensic science.
- The New York Times explains the difficulties faced by forensic scientists in identifying dental remains in this 2007 article.
- Basic principles of forensic pathology explained.
- The International Ballistics Society is a scholarly organization covering the science of ballistics– how bullets move.
- PBS’ Nova has put together an educational site on DNA analysis.
- A private forensics lab provides an explanation of forensic toxicology and the different kinds of toxicological analysis that can be performed.
- The Institute for Language as Evidence is a research group promoting the furthering of forensic linguistics.
- The Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction is an organization studying how car crashes really happened.
- The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners covers the art of determining the authenticity and source of documents, in both academic and forensic frameworks.
- Fingerprinting as explained by the FBI.